Christian Truth, Muscular Hospitality, and the Reception of Refugees

Truth can be hard to find, although the search has been going on for thousands of years. "Truth lies wrapped up and hidden in the depths," said Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher from the time of Jesus. "We sometimes discover truth where we least expected to find it," said Quintilian, another Roman of the first century.

The Roman Empire was powerful and often cruel, but it contained leaders who valued the search for truth. Because of this, we shouldn't be surprised when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus the question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38).

Surprisingly, Jesus says nothing in response. He just stands there. His silence is his answer to the question. He is saying to Pilate, "Look at me. I am truth. I am the way, the truth, and the life. Follow me, and I'll show you the path to abundant life." If Pilate really wants to grasp the truth, he doesn't have to look any farther than Jesus.

For Jesus, truth is something that is felt, acted out, and embraced in all of life. This is the kind of truth that you don't just think about, you belong to it. It is a way of life. That's why Jesus says, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (v. 37). So what exactly is this truth that we are invited to belong to?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, turning more than one hundred gallons of water into wine, so that the wedding celebration can continue (John 2:1-11). At its most basic level, this is a miracle of hospitality. Jesus goes on to feed a crowd of 5,000 and then another 4,000, revealing his desire to nourish people both physically and spiritually. He washes the feet of his disciples, institutes the Lord's Supper, and after his resurrection cooks a fish breakfast for his disciples (John 21:1-24).

Jesus teaches us what it means to care for each other in the parable of the Good Samaritan, welcomes little children in spite of his disciples' objections, and instructs his followers in the nature of hospitality with the words, "when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" (Luke 14:13).

So, what is truth? In a word, the truth of Jesus is "hospitality." It's embracing all people with God's love and grace. Jesus understands that hospitality is best directed to persons on the margins of society, and this causes him to be criticized repeatedly for eating and drinking with undesirable people. "Look," say his opponents, "a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (Luke 7:34).

The hospitality of Jesus is a powerful hospitality, one that stands up to opposition and abuse. This is not punch-and-cookies hospitality, it is muscular hospitality. Jesus never allows criticism to disrupt his table fellowship. When the Pharisees ask why Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, he says, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who sick" (Matthew 9:11-12). He calls out to a notorious tax collector named Zacchaeus and invites himself to dinner (Luke 19:1-10).

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus enters into the lives of people who are on the margins of society, struggling with hunger, shame, disease, and homelessness. He does this out of deep compassion for them, but also because he shares their experience -- Jesus himself appears to people in Palestine as a homeless stranger, with no place to lay his head. In this time of so much concern over Syrian refugees, we need to remember that Jesus started his life as a Palestinian refugee.

In the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says that anyone who feeds the hungry and welcomes strangers is really feeding and welcoming him, he is not kidding -- he knows this deprivation firsthand (Matthew 25:35). So if we are going to model our ministries on the ministry of Jesus, we need to enter into the lives of our distressed neighbors and practice hospitality in the same way that Jesus did.

The word xenophobia is tossed around a lot today -- it's Greek for "fear of the stranger." Xeno means stranger and phobia means fear. Well, the word translated "hospitality" in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia. That means "love of the stranger." Keep that in mind as our country debates whether or not to receive refugees. Are we going to love the stranger or fear the stranger? The choice is ours.

So, what is truth? It is to practice the hospitality of Jesus, and to welcome all people with God's love and grace. Remember -- the truth is not an idea, it is a way of life. Jesus says, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." The truth of Christianity is a welcoming way of life, following the Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life.