Today, at a rally in Harrisburg, PA, president Trump spoke about his policies immigration and refugees. In this context, he read once again a poem entitled “The Snake.” The poem depicts a woman encountering a snake that is dying of exposure to the elements. She brings the snake into her home. After it recovers, how does it reward her kindness? By biting her with a fatal bite. At her reaction of surprise, the snake replies, “You knew *#@& well that I was a snake before you took me in.” His reading is met with loud cheers and chants of “USA!”.
One could certainly argue, from events in Europe, that there may be certain individuals attempting to enter the USA, with the intent to do harm. Under this situation, some vetting of applicants seems like wise policy. Regardless of one’s convictions of how real that danger is, or political views of what the appropriate vetting of entry applicants should be, I intend to examine just one question for followers of Jesus: How are we commanded to engage with other cultures?
In particular, I want to encourage reflection on the the force of the Apostle Paul’s commands in Romans 12:13-14: “Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.” Two words are intriguing to me, “Contribute” and “Pursue.”
In the Greek text, “Koinoneo” is the word that many translators render as “contribute.” Who among us has not heard that “Koinoneo” refers to close fellowship, a sharing of things in common. It is often used to name a communal living setting. So, it seems that Paul has something in mind that goes beyond simply opening one’s wallet and putting money into an offering. In some manner, we are to share communally in the needs of others. This requires making room to carry the persons needs in our own heart, to share significantly in the feelings of others, and to embrace sacrifice, to be able share in another’s needs.
The second phrase is often translated “practice hospitality.” However, the Greek term infers a pursuit, which seems a much stronger term. In fact, a good way to examine its meaning is to look at the very next phrase, “Bless those who persecute you.” “Persecute” is a translation of the very same Greek term that is translated as “practice” in the prior phrase. It is a pursuit with an dogged intent to prevail or capture. Thus, when one person doggedly purses another, “persecute” is an appropriate translation of the term. Paul is obviously employing a play on words here, which puts tremendous onus on the command to “pursue hospitality.” We are to pursue hospitality with the same dogged intent that a person, who intends to harm us, would pursue us! Yes, some may pursue us with intent to harm. Our response, according to Paul, is to “bless, do not curse.”
In a culture that elevates self-preservation and the right to security so highly, what does this hospitality, this deep empathy for another’s needs, look like? It seems Paul expects us to repress our primal instincts of judgement and tribal bias long enough to allow room for another to enter our space, our mind, our heart, our home. Quite a daily challenge, it seems to me! To examine further, what such hospitality looks like, please see my next post.