“Hospitality, Visitation and Persecution - Loving When Love is Hard”

Categories: Monday Morning Meditation

Yesterday we looked at the book of Hebrews, a sermon in written form designed to fortify the faltering faith of certain members of the Jewish Christan community by encouraging them to keep Jesus front and center in their lives. We narrow our focus now on 3 verses near the end of this great "word of  exhortation". As the Hebrew writer shifts to his final instructions, it seems significant that he begins by talking about how we ought to treat others (Heb. 13:1-3). Facing hardships of various kinds, especially persecution (10:32-34), people have a tendency to turn inward. When our problems become big, and bad, and bold our compassion, concern, and charity wane. If 10:24-25 is any indication, this is exactly what happened. Thus, the writer begins with the general exhortation to continue in brotherly love and then presses on to two specific applications of what that looks like.

We must make extra effort in these situation to care for one another, even when that requires great sacrifice on our part. It is easy, or at least easier, to sacrifice for people we know. It becomes much more difficult to sacrifice when we are called to do it for people we don’t know. You don’t know them, their character, or their intentions. Perhaps they will use you. Quite possibly they may not have your best interest in mind. They might even be trying to deceive you, hoping to turn you over for their own selfish gain. Showing hospitality to such strangers is potentially dangerous and deadly, especially in times of persecution. And yet, that’s exactly what we are called to. To open our hands, our hearts, and our homes. In doing so the Hebrew writer says that we may be entertaining angels unaware. The idea here is one that was common to Judaism, that angels, as God’s ministers (Heb. 1:7, 14; Psa. 104:4), often dwelt in and among God’s people and reporting back to God (Zech. 1:10-11; Job 1:6-7 - this conception is much more fleshed out in the Jewish literature from the time after the OT leading up to and through the first century). We hear the concepts of “hospitality” and “entertaining” and perhaps we’re prone to think of dinner parties and get togethers. While those things are a form of hospitality, they are hardly what the Hebrew writer has in mind. The idea is more akin to taking someone in, perhaps a traveler on a long journey, possibly someone without a home or on the run, attending to their needs in whatever way you can, sending them on their way with provisions for their journey (cf. the stories of Abraham and Lot give examples both of this brand of hospitality and interacting favorably with angelic visitors Gen. 18:1-5, 19:1-3).

Secondly, the Hebrew writer calls his readers to identify with and care for suffering members as those who are also in the body. That is, there is something common to the experience of being human (in the body) that we can empathize with hardships of others. Thus we are to remember those who are in prison as if we were in prison ourselves. The admonition to “remember” calls for more than mere cognitive action, it suggests visiting, sitting with, and perhaps providing for those in prison (Matt. 25:36; 2 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 10:34). Rather than shrinking back and turning in we must continue to look out to the needs of others.

It is in continuing to love one another in ways like these that helps to make suffering and tragedy bearable. Therefore, let us love and encourage one another as long as the day is called “today” (3:12-14; 10:24-25).