What about Syrians?

130307161852-syria-infographics-numbers-story-topLet me begin with what this is not. This is not political. It has nothing at all to do with the right vs. left politics of the US. This is not about national security and what is safe for us. This is about what is the right thing to do plain and simple. In our journey, we are going to look at several Old Testament texts which comprise some of God’s instructions to Israel for the treatment of strangers and visitors to their land.

The laws for hospitality are scattered throughout the Old Testament, but rather than start with a few scattered verses, let’s start with examples of  how it was applied by some of the well known characters in the Old Testament. The Shunammite woman had a room furnished with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp for Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 4:8-11),  and Barzillai was invited to the royal table simply because he had been hospitable and kind to David when he had fled from Absalom (2 Samuel 17:27; 2 Samuel 19:32). Manoah, being so concerned with providing proper hospitality, would not allow an angel of the Lord to leave before proper hospitality had been provided (Judges 13:15), but remember, it was not known that it was an angel at the time, he thought he was entertaining a normal guest. Gideon punished the elders for their lack of hospitality (Judges 8:5). Rahab was rewarded greatly for her hospitality to the Israelite spies, and she was not exactly what one would call a virtuous woman (Joshua 2). Jethro rebuked his own daughters for not being hospitable to a stranger in their lands…they’d find out later that he was Moses (Exodus 2:20). Laban showed kindness to Jacob (Genesis 29:13). Lot was willing to sacrifice his life and the honor of his daughters in order to show hospitality and kindness to strangers (Genesis 19:1). Abraham entertained strangers and showed much kindness and hospitality to them (Genesis 18:1-8). For those of you who prefer to ask the old and often used question, what would Jesus do(W.W.J.D.), the answer may be found in Leviticus 19:33-34. Jewish families took in travelers from the road (no Motel 6 and no leaving the lights on in those days), and had been given instruction by God to protect those sojourners against oppression (Exodus 23:9) and deceit (Leviticus 19:33), but also were commanded to provide love (Deuteronomy 16:14) and not just love, but love as one who was a native to them (Leviticus 19:34). These are not just stories taught in Sunday school, they are our example for how to live. The are the model for our behavior. Because we are grafted onto the line, they are our history and the pattern of behavior set by our ancestors. As one final attempt to stress the importance of hospitality to our ancestors, abuses of hospitality once caused a civil war and nearly resulted in the eradication of the tribe of Benjamites. (Judges 19-20).

So, what should we do? Let us ask once again look to the Old Testament and see how it is that a host received his guests, expected or not. The host would go out to meet the traveler who was on their way. There were no questions about circumstance, condition, or even a name until the needs had first been met. Upon entering the house, water was given to the traveler and his men, the animals were tended to, and a meal was put before them. (Genesis 24: 31-33). During the stay, the host felt personally responsible for any harm that might befall his guest, and did all in his power to prevent that harm (Genesis 19:8). When a guest was leaving, another meal was set (Genesis 26:30). Finally, when a guest wished to stay, they were allowed to do so, and to select a dwelling place. (Genesis 20:15). God himself is described as providing for the strangers, hopefully through us (Deuteronomy 10:18)and not only that, but provides a protection over them (Psalm 146:9).

We, as Christians, claim to serve the risen Christ. We claim to serve the one who dies for the sins of the world. We eat at His table each time we accept the invitation to the Eucharist, we beg of His mercy, we long for His love…and then we call for turning away those who need all of that and more? We trust God to provide for us (or we claim to) then we turn away those who need provision? We beg of God’s mercy, then deny our mercy to others? We claim to not be of this world, but then we deny those who are foreigners and aliens just as we are? Those are not just stories or fun slogans either. Those are a way of life. 1 Peter 2:11-12 seems to cover this fairly well all in all.

Dearly beloved, I exhort you as temporary residents and pilgrims to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honest among the nations, in that which they speak against you as evildoers, they may glorify God in a day of His visitation, seeing your good works. – 1Pe 2:11-12

Wesley does a pretty good job of explaining it also.

1 Peter 2:11 – Here begins the exhortation drawn from the second motive. Sojourners: pilgrims – The first word properly means, those who are in a strange house; the second, those who are in a strange country. You sojourn in the body; you are pilgrims in this world. Abstain from desires of anything in this house, or in this country.

1 Peter 2:12 – Honest – Not barely unblamable, but virtuous in every respect. But our language sinks under the force, beauty, and copiousness of the original expressions. That they by your good works which they shall behold – See with their own eyes. May glorify God – By owning his grace in you, and following your example. In the day of visitation – The time when he shall give them fresh offers of his mercy.

I know that there are concerns about our security, but I dare say those fall into the category of abstaining “from desires of anything in this house or in this country”. Besides that, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), for all of it’s restrictions and inconveniences, still has not caught any of the terrorists that are feared. A Christian Security Administration that decides to who and when hospitality will be given will not either. Denying the hospitality that marked an important part of the society of our ancestors as outlined in the Old Testament does not just grieve God, does not just harm the Christian witness to the world that we show, does not just deny the duty and commands of God to us about hospitality, it damages us. It damages how we view the world to see those in need of our hospitality as potential threats instead of welcomed guests. It damages how we view the God who protects the travelers (that includes us) when we are strangers in foreign land (like us). It damages how we see the Spirit we have been given, that is to say a Spirit of power and not a spirit of fear. The end result is that we have denied the hospitality commanded by God and in return received an even more warped and damaged view of the Father and his gifts to us.

We need to understand that the hospitality that God has commanded of us is not only for those in need (the travelers and foreigners), but is also for us. By taking in those who are in exile, we hear their stories and understand our own status as exiles from the garden. We understand the faith of our ancestors who were exiles in Egypt. By providing for those who have nothing we understand that God has provided for us when we have had nothing. We understand that He provided His Son when we had only the burden of sin. By providing for those who have little we understand that not only do we have plenty, we have an abundance. We realize that we have been blessed far beyond what we deserve and that we have squandered that blessing by trying to protect it rather than by blessing others. God, in this crisis, has provided us with the amazing opportunity to, in some small and imperfect way, experience the joy that it is to share and provide for those whom we love (or should love) the most. We have the chance to experience some small part of the joy it brings god to provide for those who do not have the means on their own. We have the chance to look at this through the eyes of heaven which see the need and the means of supply, instead of the eyes of earth which sees the risk and the complications. We have the chance to live as our ancestors in faith and rush out to great those who come, provide for their needs, and then, and only then, hear their stories and offer them home in our lands. Yes there are risks of terrorists, criminals, and who knows what else…but there is also the promise of angels unaware. We are not called to be a people paralyzed by risk, but rather a people motivated by The Promise.

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