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The Politics of Scripture

The Crucial Difference between Hospitality and Solidarity

The concept of “hospitality” is inherently asymmetrical. Ones who see themselves as hosts get to determine to whom hospitality can be offered. Viewed from the guests’ perspective … there is no shared humanity in the unbalanced notion of hospitality.

1 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. … 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16 (NRSV)

Amidst various exhortations in Hebrews 13, two political concepts are especially relevant: hospitality and solidarity (Hebrews 13:2-3). Hospitality is mentioned explicitly in verse 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” While “solidarity” is not mentioned explicitly as a term, it is very much implied in the exhortation in verse 3: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them, those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” I will unpack this connection between hospitality and solidarity to show that hospitality arises out of solidarity and not vice versa.

Hospitality, on the one hand, arises out of love but does not necessarily take risks to transform unjust structures. For example, in 2018, the US Border Protection Agency fired tear gas on asylum-seeking migrants in Tijuana, Mexico. Commenting on this situation, James A. Chamberlain, in “Responsibility for Migrants: From Hospitality to Solidarity” (Political Theory, vol. 48, 1: pp. 57–83), notes how the concept of “hospitality” is inherently asymmetrical. Ones who see themselves as hosts get to determine to whom hospitality can be offered. Viewed from the guests’ perspective (the migrants in the Tijuana scenario), there is no shared humanity in the unbalanced notion of hospitality.

Solidarity, on the other hand, refers (in Chamberlain’s words) to “relationships among similar and dissimilar actors who stand together, for one another.” In this way, solidarity works to transform processes that produce unjust outcomes. Solidarity directly participates in societal transformation. Solidarity in Hebrews calls readers and hearers into such participation. As we find in Hebrews 13, solidarity means responding to the immediate needs of strangers and undertaking ministries of care for those who are imprisoned. In one reading, such actions might seem like non-risky hospitality. This, however, is not the case. Responding to strangers’ immediate needs and visiting those in prison simultaneously means working towards abolishing the processes that lead to precarity and incarceration. To understand how this is the case, one needs to understand the Christology that is variously emphasized in the book of Hebrews.

In encouraging a disheartened community, the author of Hebrews presents a distinctive Christology of Jesus as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:15-17). Some readings of Hebrews, particularly of chapter 7, might come across as presenting Jesus as a new and improved version of the old Melchizedek. This, in my opinion, is not the best reading of the text when seen in the context of the emphasis on solidarity within the book of Hebrews. The Christology of Hebrews stresses Jesus’ humanity to emphasize his solidarity with the suffering community. Jesus as a high priest, sympathizes with the sufferers. Jesus in Hebrews is one who falls within the political, religious, and cultural parameters of Jewish understandings of the Messiah. Of particular importance here is the connection between Christology and calling upon the names of those who overcame tribulations in Israel’s history (Hebrews 11). To this fascinating point, I now turn.

Three characters invoked by Hebrews 11 are of particular relevance here. The first character is Rahab, a Canaanite outsider on the margins of society who took risks to be in solidarity with a wandering community and thus extend hospitality to them. Rahab was not simply providing shelter but undertook a risky affair to protect vulnerable lives. The second character is Pharoah’s daughter, an Egyptian in the midst of imperial power who took and hid the infant Moses, undertaking the risk of nurturing a Jewish child. The third character is Moses himself, a Jewish man who resisted imperial pleasures and stood in solidarity with those who were made vulnerable by the empire. In this way, Moses embraced an oppressed identity—to use the language of Hebrews 13: as though he himself was being tortured.

What connects these three characters—who come from three different social locations and identities—is that they all risked solidarity. These characters are also connected with respect to the resonance they have with Jesus who similarly risked solidarity with those who are oppressed. I find this connection between the Old Testament characters mentioned in the book of Hebrews and the Christology of Hebrews especially poignant. It is with this fuller context that the readers and hearers of Hebrews are exhorted to be in solidarity with people who were persecuted and imprisoned. It is such solidarity with the oppressed that sparks their hospitality towards them. In other words, hospitality arises out of solidarity and not vice versa. 

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