Jared Miller asks:
“Hey Randal Do you think it is possible to have a definitive understanding of Hospitality or is it sublime and platonic like Justice and can only be known through examples?”
As with so many concepts, the basic idea of hospitality is readily conveyed in a dictionary definition. For example:
hospitality: noun. The generous and welcoming reception of guests and strangers, especially those in need.
But it is one thing to have a skeletal definition, and it is another thing altogether to put meat on those bones. This is especially true in the case of a concept like hospitality which finds its force in appealing to the moral nature of individuals. To that end, having the definition but not the example is tantamount to knowing the words but not the music. In the teaching of Jesus it is not the definitions that stick with us; rather, it is the concrete examples in the parables. We are invited to envision a man beaten and left on the side of the road being tenderly cared for by a Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); we are shown the picture of a father defying social protocol by picking up his robes and running to meet his prodigal son upon the boy’s return (Luke 15:11-32). These images and others like them provide the muscle, the tissue, the beating heart, that bring the valley of dry definitional bones to life.
With that in mind, consider this example Christine Pohl shares from World War 2:
“The story of the village of Le Chambon is a powerful example of the meaning of difference in the practice of hospitality. This small community of French Protestants rescued Jews during World War II. Opening their homes, schools, and church to strangers with quiet, steady hospitality, they made Le Chambon the safest place in Europe for Jews. They acknowledged and valued the Jewish identity of their guests and understood their need for protection. Defining as neighbor anyone who dearly needed help, they saved the lives of thousands of Jews. When the police asked the pastor of the community to turn in the Jews, Andre Trocme responded, ‘We do not know what a Jew is. We know only men.” (Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 83.)