Hospitality & Social Justice

27 Nov
Photo by Ben Garratt

It is interesting Matthews Jesus places the basis for judgement for believers within the context of hospitality. Interesting but not surprising. Jesus very first miracle took place at a wedding. The Gospel accounts are full of stories revolving around food, welcome, embrace and table discussion. He uses the Last Supper to inaugurate the Eucharist. He reveals himself to the disciples by the lake at breakfast and to the disciples at Emmaus as they sat down to eat.

Hospitality is the centre of Jesus engagement with the world. Hospitality is also a key motif of the Godhead. In deep self-giving and self-revelation the Godhead creates all things include the world in which we live. Within all creation is the essence of God, given as a means to welcome and include the created in the creator. If there is a word that describes the Godhead, the Trinity, it is hospitality.

Christian hospitality is a matter of welcoming, caring for, and befriending the stranger, the poor and needy, the homeless and destitute, the unloved and the unlikable, the weird and the strange, in gratitude to God and in imitation of Christ. It may be the most important Christian calling for our times, but it is one we easily neglect unless we are part of faith communities who make it their aim. For Christians, hospitality is not an occasional gesture but a whole way of being. It is not an interruption to our normal way of life but a habit, practice, or virtue that ought consistently to characterise our lives. How do we become this kind of person and these kinds of congregations in the Church and for the world today? (Paul J Waddell)

Christian hospitality is social justice, a political act of inclusion commenced at the moment we present ourselves at the Lord’s table to receive his body and his life. Christian hospitality has as its foundation the unending generosity of a God who created all things for our enjoyment and fellowship and gave of himself to come and share this wonder with us in the form of the Christ. Christian hospitality is amazingly boundless and boundary-less. It has no limits in any direction because the one whom we partake of through every breath we take sets no limits and transcends all limits.

The amazing mystical experience of the Lord’s supper should be the model for the hospitality, the justice we give ourselves for in our everyday lives. In this wonder we embrace the body and being of the Godhead and are welcomed into the table fellowship of the Trinity-the table fellowship at the beginning of eternity, at the deep abyss of the dreaming. Perhaps we have come here so often it no longer rattles our senses to break us into pieces and put us back together again. Perhaps we have become so culturally acceptable of this practice it no longer leaves us breathless and spellbound.

This is Christian hospitality. The embrace of the godhead in the eucharist should leave us disarmed and open to offering the same unrestricted embrace to others. This embrace is not for us alone. Yes we are to enjoy our relationship with the Godhead and cherish our moments at the table, but we are then expected to take that unconditional embrace as the yardstick by which we measure and live our lives.

This is the point Jesus makes in this passage. It does not matter, really, what you do in front of him, but it does matter what you do when you leave the sanctuary of faith. It is how you conduct yourself, not just in relationships, but in terms of the injustice you are aware of in society. You see hospitality is, by its very nature social justice. It is about welcoming all, not just those who are socially acceptable, socially your equal or those you wish to be in social intercourse with.

Jesus makes it very clear that judgement, if there is a judgement, will be based not our compliance or adherence to doctrine or liturgical practice, not even to how much we give to the church, but according to how much of ourselves we give away to others. How much of our material wealth, our safety and security and perceived identity, individually and nationally we let go of for others.

There are over 300 Biblical texts that address matters of social justice and whic instruct the faithful on how to think about and to treat the poor, (including Proverbs 14:31, whose meaning underlies the Matthew text (“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honour him.”).  Social justice, in fact, is what messiah is all about (– read Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 if there is any question about this!)

Matthew’s Jesus is thus not trying to carve out a welfare exception for his followers on the grounds of faith, as if they were deserving of special treatment because they believed in him. Rather, he is demanding justice in the traditional biblical fashion based upon the longstanding and widespread belief in Judaism that economic justice was owed to whomever was on the bottom of the pecking order.(Timothy F. Simpson)

Hospitality is social justice and it does commit us to partake in the political debates of our time.

These debates should not be about how do we protect our rights but how do we give up or let go of what we perceive our rights to be so to allow others to share equally and equitably in daily life.  Much of the debate around such as SSM, refugees or indigenous sovereignty is not about allowing others to share the benefits of life as we do, but how to maintain our dominance and position in society.

Hospitality is not about inviting your best friends over for champagne and chicken but how you provide for those who are being marginalised and oppressed by the very same system that has privileged some over others.

 

The admonitions in this passage imply that the hospitality given is designed to empower and lift up, not maintain and disempower through a welfare mentality. This is not about services but the welcoming as an equal and allowing that equal to make the decisions and take the actions they need to take.

Hospitality is, in the end very simple: treat those who you encounter, those who are marginalised, or left out,; treat them for whom they are – the incarnation of Jesus – and practice the hospitality you receive here, at his table.

Matthew 25:31-46

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