We live in a rapidly changing world in which massive amounts of people move from one place to the next. Many people who have come from other places live on the margins of society as socially excluded international refugees or immigrants.
One out of every 122 people worldwide has left their home (Johnstone and Merrill 2016, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 195). Globally, this movement of migrants makes up 3.2% of the world’s population (Jackson 2016, 13). These refugees are often seen as marginal strangers and off limits to normal interaction within society.
More than one million refugees poured into Europe in 2015. According to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), “1,005,504 migrants… entered Europe during the year—more than quadruple the number of the year before” (Johnstone and Merrill, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 174-175). The panic and confusion caused many Europeans to lose sight of important political, social, and religious issues that come with this expansive migration (Legrain 2007, 298).
Unfortunately, this has also affected the attitude of many Christians who, due to fear and distrust, refuse to share their lives in any meaningful way with these refugees. The current reality means that “some people—including some Christians—have allowed fear to dominate the refugee conversation” (Bauman 2016, 179).
In our ministry in Spain, as we embrace refugees in our home and ministry, our lives daily become enriched by them. For example, on May 11, 2016, I had a knee replacement in Madrid. When I went into surgery, my wife sat alone in the hospital waiting room. Suddenly, some of the refugees we work with showed up to wait with her. When the doctor came out and said, “Would the family of Mark Cannon please come into my office,” they all stood and marched into his office as a group. They have become like family to us as we have been face to face and heard their stories.
Unfortunately, in spite of a large “Welcome Refugees” sign on many government buildings, our personal observations and experiences working with refugees in Spain shows the opposite. The exclusion of refugees is often the norm.
To illustrate, one of our refugee friends called to ask for our help in finding an apartment to rent. We trudged around the city and finally found a Spanish landlady to rent her apartment to our friends. However, we were shocked when two months later they were told to leave, and when asked why the tenants had been told to leave, the landlady said that she “did not know where the refugees got their money.”
A Spanish lawyer assured them that they could not be evicted since they had a signed contract and they were paying rent. Nevertheless, this story serves as an illustration of the ill-treatment and paranoia creating barriers between Christians and refugees.
In spite of the mistrust towards refugees at large in Spanish society, followers of Jesus can find an alternate response to refugees when looking to Christ and his example. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, “It is not Christian men who shape the world with their ideas, but it is Christ who shapes men in conformity with Himself” (Bonhoeffer 1955, 82).
In this article, I demonstrate that a biblical view of hospitality can offer a corrective to the current view of refugees, including the millions of marginalized Muslims. I want to examine Luke 5:27-32, the example of Jesus’ hospitality towards marginalized Jews in his culture, and how Jesus and his apostles interacted with their undesirable foreign neighbors, the Samaritans. These interactions provide a biblical model to challenge the current attitudes regarding the refugee crisis.
The Calling of Levi: Jesus Invites the Marginalized
There is no way to know if Jesus and Levi had previously met, but this still demonstrates the radical encounter between Levi and Jesus, who simply states, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27). The text states that Levi sat at a tax booth, which would indicate his occupation as a tax collector. This type of tax collector taxed people as they went from one city to another, and were generally much hated. The Jews thought these tax collectors to be in league with the Romans, and known for extortion (Marshall 1978, 131).
Yet Jesus’ words of invitation created a reversal in Levi’s life (Craddock 1990, 77). He may have been the wealthiest of the disciples, and yet Levi left everything to follow Jesus (Marshall 1978, 131), making an exemplary break from his previous life (Bock 1994, 108). After his decision to follow Jesus, he could not go back, as likely his bosses replaced him for abandoning his position.
Levi’s Feast: The Challenge of Hospitality to the Marginalized
Immediately following Levi’s calling, Levi held a feast bringing together many undesirable “sinners”. He apparently had enough money and sufficient social networks to offer a great feast in order to introduce his associates to Jesus (Marshall 1978, 132).
Luke tells us that a large crowd gathered (Luke 5:29), more tax collectors as well as “others” which, according to Bock, would be a short-hand for “sinners” (Bock 1994, 219). Jesus’ presence at Levi’s invitation strongly identified him with Levi. Apparently, these kinds of sinful people would not normally be welcomed by a holy teacher like Jesus, as noted by the Pharisees response.
Yet Amy-Jill Levine recognizes that these unclean Jewish sinners could become ritually pure at the temple” (Levine 2006, Kindle Electronic Edition: 2775). Still knowing this, many believed Jesus should not mingle with this dirty class of people in any social setting (Rogers 2003, 95). The law of association kept the holy from being in contact with the profane (Just 2003, 95). Jesus’ inclusive view perplexed many of Jesus’ neighbors. The Pharisee in the story most likely felt confused by Jesus’ gathering with Levi’s friends (Luke 5:30).
Hospitality was not optional in the New Testament world. In fact, “part of hospitality included recognizing and valuing the stranger or guest” (Pohl 1999, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 392). Who a person ate with had consequences. Therefore, Jesus clearly disregarded the Pharisees’ standards by socializing with the sinful “such as the various tax collectors who receive such praise in the Gospels, who deliberately choose to remove themselves from the community” (Levine, 2006, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 2789). The Pharisees’ criticism of Jesus’ behavior became an opportunity for Jesus to go beyond the normal social boundaries of his culture.
Jesus Reveals His Motive
Jesus responded with a parable to answer the religious leaders’ question regarding his purpose. The dilemma appears to be: how could someone accept the friendship of sinners and still be religiously acceptable in God’s presence? Jesus’ approach to sinners (the spiritually sick) did not show Jesus condoning their sinful behavior, but rather extending grace.
Jesus used two metaphors—the “well and the sick” and “the saint and the “sinner” (Craddock 1990, 79), which indirectly indicted the religious leaders and affirmed that Jesus did nothing sinful. He took the role as host of a community of sinners and defended his right to commune with them. He continued his ministry, refusing to be caught up by the religious leaders’ labels and social identification markers.
Luke’s account demonstrates the redemptive motif of calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). The second half of Jesus’ response leaves no doubt about his hospitality towards sinners and tax collectors. Jesus accepted the social and religious outcasts by sharing meals with them as well as calling them to a deeper place spiritually. This was an act of hospitality and an invitation that brought people outside their normal religious groups to rub shoulders with Jesus, who could touch the deepest recesses of their hearts. Repentance can be viewed both as a gift and a demand of the age ushered in by the presence and the preaching of Jesus (Craddock 1990, 79).
Fred Craddock notes that those who read this passage should consider their own response. He reminds the reader of Luke 5:27-32: we cannot just be a spectator at the banquet; the real question is if we are willing to be at the table with Jesus, tax collectors, and sinners—or if we belong to his critics (Craddock 1990, 79).
Jesus and the Samaritans: Enemies among the Marginalized
In Luke 9:51-55, as Jesus journeyed towards Jerusalem, instead of going around the edges of the hated Samaria, he went right through their villages. Even more significant were his plans to arrange for lodging and food in the Samaritan village. Jesus chose to take his ministry among these outsiders, “these despised half-Jewish heretics” (Craddock 1990, 218-219).
The Samaritans and the Jews had a long history of hatred and mixed messages. Jesus’ view of them was not popular: “In Jewish eyes, the Samaritans were half-breeds, ethnic traitors, bad guys” (Bock 1994, 181).
Jesus’ viewpoint differed: “Clearly, what Jesus seeks is not only conventional hospitality but a welcome that embraces fully the message of peace” (Green 1997, Kindle Edition: Location 9710). The disciples returned and reacted to the Samaritan’s resistance to extend hospitality to them. They suggested that Jesus should judge the Samaritans like Elijah did by calling down fire on them.
Their super-spiritual expression of hatred did not line up with Jesus’ direction and motive. This demonstrates why Jesus did not seek vengeance even upon those who insulted him (Marshall 1978, 403). He rebuked the disciples and moved on (Morris 1974, 194). This event shows Jesus’ amazing desire to include people outside of Judaism (Bock 1996, 966).
Read The Missing Key to the Refugee Crisis: Christian Hospitality towards Muslims, Part Two (The Early Church: Embracing Marginalized Enemies; The Church’s Response: The Marginalized Today; Conclusion) next Sunday on The Exchange.