This series of articles calls Christians to display the works of mercy described in Matthew 25:31-46. This article focuses on the call to show hospitality to strangers.

Source: Diakonia, 2007. 3 pages.

Sevenfold Mercy (4): Hospitality Towards Strangers

Coming Home. Home, House...🔗

What does a house mean to you? Have you ever thought about that? Is it a status symbol to show how much you earn? Or is it more or less a hotel in which you only sleep at night? In both cases it is a question of whether your house is also a home.

Your house is your home. If that is not the case there is something wrong. Your house is the place where you feel at home. A place where you can always return even when you are away, a place to catch your breath, a place of restoration when you come home exhausted, your own place on this earth. This private place is essential for human existence.

A house can be a place where you are yourself because you live there and no one else. You are not together but alone, your trusted place. Many people come there but you are the only one who lives there.

A house can also be the place that you share with your loved ones, a place where you as family laugh and cry, speak and are silent. The place where you have your position, a place where you are missed when you are gone and where you can hide with your problems, a home base.

Imagine now a situation where your house be­comes inaccessible. That you no longer can return home because of your political or religious convictions. You are put out of your house. You are expelled from your country. You flee your own house and country, involuntarily. You become a refugee who is seen and treated as a stranger. Hos­pitality is not a given. Shelter is harder to find then you ever thought. How long do you have to wait for the feeling to return that you once again have come home and belong...?

It also happens that people freely leave their house, because they think that they will find a bet­ter home somewhere else. They leave the country and move to the big city, or they leave their house and country and move to another country. How long does it take before you feel at home again?

The Third Work of Mercy🔗

Shelter and hospitality make up the third "work of mercy" according to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46;

'I was a stranger and you invited me in.' (25:35c)

But also, 'I was a stranger and you did not invite me in.' (25:43a)

Basic mercy begins with giving food and relieving thirst. However it also entails providing accommo­dation for those who do not have a home: strang­ers, refugees, asylum seekers, homeless and those without shelter.

Jesus urges his followers to remain involved with showing mercy. If you do not do this then you will fall short and stand with empty hands on the day of (last) judgment. Mercy begins with simple things: food and drink, shelter and clothing, care for the sick and imprisoned (and dying). Mercy is also giving shelter to those who do not have a roof over their head and showing hospitality to strangers. It involves caring for people who have no fixed address and lead a wandering life.


A stranger has grown up in another culture. It could be that he (or she) thinks more communally (clan, family, household) than a Dutchman who thinks more individually. It could be that he puts more value on origin (I am the grandson of...) than a Dutchman who values appearance. For this reason there exists a field of tension between a stranger and his environment. The stranger comes from somewhere else and is a duck out of water. That can cause anxiety and sometimes hostility with people in their surroundings. Conversely, the stranger's alien environment can be frighten­ing even for the simple reason that the stranger is always in the minority.

Do we understand how it feels to be seen as a for­eigner? How it feels to be looked at with contempt because of your odd accent or different customs? How it feels to receive discriminating remarks?

Something of this alienation must be recogniz­able to a Christian living in a secularized society. The Bible characterizes Christians as "as aliens and strangers" (1 Pet. 2:11). I realize that physi­cal alienation cannot be equated with spiritual alienation. Yet there are similarities. One aspect they have in common is clearly the feeling of ten­sion between two cultures. You live in two worlds. For a Christian that means, on the one hand, to live where God has given you a place in society where you work and live and participate in all sorts of things. On the other hand you are, as a Christian, a citizen of the heavenly kingdom and for that reason you feel a distance and estrange­ment from the society where your "everyday" life is. You feel at home in your world, but at the same time homeless. Is this not an aspect of following Christ? Do his followers not characterize themselves as "homeless" on this earth? "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20; cf. Luke 9:58).


In the Bible you encounter hospitality at various moments and in different ways. The congregation of Christ is called, in accordance with God's directions regarding the rights of foreigners in the Old Testament, to pay attention, give care and help to all strangers who live in our midst (cf. Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). Hospitality is a fruit of faith.

A significant text is Hebrews 13:2 ("Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."). This call is addressed to Christians who do not have a lasting city here but look forward to the city to come (13:14). Precisely for that reason they, like their forefathers, are aliens and strangers on earth (11:13).

This call to hospitality stands next to the exhorta­tion to continue to remember prisoners and those who experience suffering and persecution (13:3). That is not meant as a cry in the dark but as a con­crete way of giving help and support. It is about providing concrete care.

"Not to forget" — the Christian must not neglect and omit hospitality. Forgetting is the same as neglecting, just as "keeping in mind" refers to concrete help offered at such a time of need. "Not to forget" can in addition be rather risky when Christians form a persecuted and distrusted minor­ity, because taking in a stranger goes against the grain.

The motivation of hospitality in Hebrews 13 is parallel to that of Matthew 25: "for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it". Possibly the author is making a reference to the example of Abraham (Genesis 18) and Lot (Genesis 19). According to Jewish tradi­tion Abraham and Lot did not as such recognize the messenger of God. God Himself comes to us in the person of the stranger. People are blessed when they do not know that through their hospital­ity they are receiving messengers of God.


Giving shelter to the homeless and hospitality towards strang­ers: what do we need in order to accomplish that?

  1. An open heart: First of all, it is always necessary to have an open heart for hospitality. Hospitality can only be given in love and cannot be ac­companied by reluctance or annoyance. Hos­pitality must be offered "without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9). It is true that hospitality can be abused. Yet the Christian community must open their hearts, without resentment due to potential abuse, towards strangers, refugees and people who have no home. An open heart is an absolute condition for hospitality and for being involved in accommodating your fellow homeless neighbour.
  2. An open border: Hospitality requires that you are prepared to go into the different world and culture of the stranger and the homeless. That means that you show that you are prepared to cross over the border of your own world. Hospitality is difficult if your own world is defined by closed borders and not open bor­ders. In short; hospitality shifts the borders.
  3. An open house: The other side of an open border is that you admit others into your world. Concretely, this can mean that you make part of your house available. It can also mean that you as Christian community make your church services accessible for refugees and asylum seekers. Essentially hospitality requires that you yourself are an open house.

The More Concrete the Better🔗

Following the path of Christ the diaconal congre­gation will be busy with hospitality and accommodations, the accommodating of the homeless and hospitality towards strangers and refugees.

I will list three concrete possibilities in the area of hospitality.

  1. Orientation: For strangers and refugees that have only been in our country a short time our society is often a maze. It is necessary to familiarize people in different areas. You might consider, for instance, providing informa­tion about the neighbourhood and assisting with filling in of forms.
  2. Host Families: A concrete form of hospitality is for fami­lies to be prepared to become host family for asylum seekers. Asylum seekers and refugees often have a great need for warmth, attention and love. Professional support workers cannot satisfy that need (however willing they might be), but host families can. An adopted family is very important and useful, especially for single, juvenile asylum seekers.
  3. Fight Prejudices: Refugees and asylum seekers often face various prejudices that can lead to discrimination and racial expressions. It is very important that Christians work to battle prejudice and in this way promote a climate of hospitality. A prejudice is the opposite of hospitality and a typical example of closed borders that hinders people from daring to leave their own world.

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