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The Right of Hospitality overcomes Violence

"The right of hospitality overcomes violence.. When all people understand themselves as guests and hosts, violence can be overcome. The process of hospitable acceptance is disarming. Both sides give trust... When hospitality is cultivated, it can penetrate a society like leaven and civilize it." This address from the 29th Evangelical church day in 2001 is translated from the German. Marlene Crusemann is a theologian in Bielefeld.
The Right of Hospitality overcomes Violence

A Biblical Reflection

By Marlene Crusemann

[This address from the 29th Evangelical church day in 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Marlene Crusemann is a theologian in Bielefeld.]

The right of hospitality overcomes violence - that is the vision this evening. When all people understand themselves as guests and hosts, violence can be overcome. How can this come about? The process of hospitable acceptance is disarming. Both sides give trust and become vulnerable. When I enter an unknown house and spend the night, I trust I will be protected and eat and sleep without danger. Life is protected. When I accept surprising or foreign guests, I make available my own refuge. I assume they will not harm or rob me. Protecting ones abandon themselves.

Vulnerable with one another, we take off our armor. We recognize ourselves as equally created beings with the same needs. Readiness for violence would be absurd under this shelter of trust erected by both sides.

The Bible emphasizes and sanctifies this experience into God's commandment. Manifold dangers threaten travelers in the ancient Orient: armed robberies, loss of possessions and upheavals through thunderstorms, hunger, thirst and exhaustion in isolated areas with few hostels. Everyone should be ready to give cheerfully what they need in such situations. Thus Abraham rushed to meet three unknown men who visited his Mamre grove and offered them shady trees, water, freshly baked cakes, butter ,milk and a tender calf (Gen 18,1ff). When they stopped with Lot, life was not sumptuous. The unknown persons asked to spend the night. Their lives were defended when Sodom's population sought to harm them (Gen 19,1ff). Violence from the outside may never intrude into the shelter of the house. In extreme cases, the guests must be protected more than the inhabitants themselves. Such hospitality brings strangers close . Suddenly strangers are often made into acquaintances and fellow-citizens. Lot himself was a stranger, an newcomer in his city and therefore a sensitive person.

Israel joins the widespread custom and right of unknown travelers to hospitable acceptance with the command of love of strangers. That is its peculiarity. Foreigners who live for a long time in our country should not be oppressed but treated as residents and guests. God says: "You know the heart of strangers, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Lev 19,24). God loves strangers and gives them food and clothing. "Therefore you should also love the sojourner" and act in love (Deut 10,18f). How broadminded could Christianity have developed if it would have made loving strangers its foundation, not only Israel's command of charity! We would encounter Jesus much more often if we would help me as a stranger among us with food, clothing and hospitable acceptance. "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matt 25,35).

The right of hospitality lives from the privileged at the moment sharing with the needy without expecting or demanding a return favor or quid pro quo. The right of hospitality doesn't promote any "amigo-economy" in which the powerful invite one another in luxury mansions and ocean yachts and stay among themselves as a clique to gain even more influence and riches. This can lead to violence and oppression of the smaller and was always an instrument of domination. Whoever invites, Jesus says, should not ask relatives, friends and rich neighbors but rather the poor, damaged and homeless who cannot return anything. That is the resurrection of the just (Lk 14,12-14). However the roles change when we the privileged fall into distress or become very sick abroad. I will never forget those persons who unexpectedly cared for me in such a situation. The respective situation of individuals decides what can be done and what can be received. When cultivated, hospitality can penetrate a society like leaven and civilize it.

A good deed can occur immediately. A counter-gift with the guests can arise. The Bible entices to hospitality through the possibility of entertaining angels. Abraham and Sarah, the elders, heard through angelic guests that their childlessness would end (Gen 18,10f). What is an angel? An angel is a person through whom God speaks to me. The letters of the apostles declare that anyone can be befriended at any time even without our knowledge (Hebr 13,2). Paul reminds the brothers and sisters in Galatia of their generosity: you accepted the weak, sick and disgusting strangers. "You did not scorn or despise me but received me as an angel of God, as the messiah Jesus" (Gal 4,14). Thus he could accept them in God's nearness and loving affection. Through him, God now comes to them, to a people once far off.

When the gates are opened, a maltreated person could appear differently in the future. If youths in Germany who became violent actors alien to us were treated as guests, they could ask us: For what do you hunger and thirst? From what are you afraid? What do you command?

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