Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Hosts and Guests: Hospitality as an Emerging Paradigm in Mission

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Hosts and Guests: Hospitality as an Emerging Paradigm in Mission

Article excerpt


In recent years, hospitaly has turned into a central term in missiological discussions integrating several aspects of missiological reftection. The essay summarizes how the dialectic between host and guest builds a central thread throughout the biblical narralive and explores how the dual role of missionaries as hosts and guests opens new dimensions of missionary existence and self-understanding. On the one hand, the role of the missionary as guest emphasizes the missionary's vulnerabilily and voluntary submission to the cultural and contextual rules. It thus implies a humility that stands in contrast to any spirit of conquest. On the other hand, missionaries who understand their role as one of host show a readiness for disruption and openness to the sacramental quality of a guest that possibly allows an encounter with God. Hospitality thus re-enacts a basic movement of faith, the movement of receiving the alien word of God. In a final reflection, the essay considers a contradiction inherent in the concept of hospitality, as pointed out by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the contradiction between openness to those in need of hospitality and the host's dependence on power and control in order to host people.


Some years ago, I spent a couple of weeks as seasonal pastor in the Swiss mountain resort of Zermatt. While there, I visited the local museum and learnt how the grand hotels of this resort village root in the church's practice of hospitality: When the first mountaineers arrived, they naturally used to stay in the local pastor's house. Over time, the increasing number of tourists forced the local pastor to establish hotels to accommodate visitors to Zermatt. The visit to the museum prompted me to rethink the important link between hospitality and Christian faith.

This insight came back to me at a recent meeting of an ecumenical working group discussing the meeting of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of March 2012 in Manila rifled "Together towards Fullness of Life." One of the emerging paradigms that played a role in Manila and integrated several aspects of missiological reflection was hospitality. In fact, hospitality has, in recent years, turned into a central term of missiological discussion) The concept naturally leads to its dialectic counterpart, the side of the guest and stranger.

A biblical tradition of hosts and strangers

The dialectic of hosting and visiting is a central thread throughout the biblical tradition and offers a key to reading the whole story of the Bible. Abraham left his home to become a vulnerable stranger, dependent on a hospitable reception from the residents of an alien land. The Israelites, who had once arrived as guests in Egypt, became slaves and experienced the low point of this dialectic. After Israel had established itself as a nation, the prophets reminded God's people of their nomadic roots, and the law of Moses frequently admonished them to care for the stranger (Deut. 24:17ff). During the Babylonian captivity, Israel had a renewed experience of being enslaved strangers. (2) All through the story of Israel we find an awareness of a deeper dimension of hospitality, possibly bringing surprising encounters with transcendence: Abraham encounters God's angels in the three visitors (Gen. 18); a poor widow encounters a messenger of God by receiving Elijah in her poor house (1 Kings 17). Against the background of such experiences--guests who depend on the hospitality of local people in a foreign land, and hosts who may encounter transcendence in the stranger--hospitality turns into a central element of Old Testament ethics. (3)

The New Testament extends this tradition with the story of the disciples who encounter the resurrected Christ in a stranger they meet on their way to Emmaus and then host when night falls (Luke 24:13-35). The ultimate ground for the dialectic of host and guest is revealed in Christ, in whom alien transcendence became flesh to live as a guest among us (John 1:14), and who invites us as the host to his festive banquets, the past ones during his lifetime, the present ones around the Eucharistic table, and the future eschatological banquet. …

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