Refugee Sunday Appeal: Hospitality Is a Double-Edged Sword

Religious Communities Issue Joint Appeal on Refugee Sunday and Refugee Sabbath, held June 16/17, 2012.
Swiss Refugee Aid (SFH)

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing.” (Hebrews 13:2) Hospitality is a double-edged sword.

For the guest we welcome to our house is a stranger who does not belong to our family or our household. There is always a risk of inviting the wrong person in. This uncertainty engenders distrust. The guest could even turn out to be an enemy. We know this attitude; it’s not unfounded, either. We all have our experiences – and they’re not always good ones.

Who wouldn’t want to be visited by angels? As strange as they may seem, we would have nothing to fear. The verse from the Epistle to the Hebrews can be found in a passage titled “Concluding Exhortations.” These exhortations pertain to daily life – the verse is not about Christmas angels, theatre plays or works of art, but about everyday angels. It also seems that they may not be recognized at first glance. We do not know which person may be an angel in disguise. And because angels are not easily recognized, every person standing at our doorstep could indeed be one. Every person we slam the door on could be an angel we have sent away. This, too, is a risk – and from Bible’s point of view, it is the by far bigger and more serious of the two.

There is much talk about asylum seekers exploiting and abusing our hospitality, and not acting like guests. These things do happen. This is the risk we face, being hosts. But nobody stops to consider that these asylum seekers may actually be those angels come to visit us. These things do happen, Hebrews tells us. And this, too, is a risk we face, being hosts. Remembering we could be face to face with an angel can be another way of meeting strangers. Precisely because angels do not reveal their angelhood, we actually have no choice but to assume it of every person asking for our hospitality.

Back in 1985, the churches and religious communities made this common pledge: “Respecting the human dignity of every person, regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, gender or social status, is one of the basic principles of our nation and our culture. Above all, this principle must prove itself in the way we treat the weak and the disadvantaged, including asylum seekers and refugees.“ (On the Side of the Refugees, 1985)

They want to continue to honor this commitment in 2012. Bishop Dr. Norbert Brunner, President, Swiss Bishop’s Conference (SBK) Rev. Dr. Gottfried Locher, Council President, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) Dr. Herbert Winter, President, Swiss Israelite Community Association (SIG) Bishop Dr. Harald Rein, Bishop, Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland (CKS)