THE GOSPEL MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering (Heb. 13:1-3).
As Jewish people, these readers were required to be kind to strangers. They were to treat the foreigners among them with generosity because they had been aliens many times in the course of their history. Abraham was an alien in the land of Canaan; Jacob and his family were aliens in Egypt; the Israelites were foreigners in Babylon. They, in turn had opportunity to show kindness to those who were not of them because it was the right thing to do.
God even made provision for foreigners within their economic system. After every harvest, they were to give the firstfuits to God, and bring a tithe of the remainder to the temple where it was stored and distributed to the priests and Levites to support them and their families. They also set aside another tenth to celebrate God’s goodness with their families. Every third year they brought their “family” tithe to the temple to be given the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien because these people had no inheritance of their own and no one to support them.
In all their dealings with people – family, fellow Israelites or foreigners – they were required to treat people with mercy and compassion. This was Jesus’s issue with the Pharisees and religious leaders. They were such sticklers for the law as they interpreted it, that they ignored the spirit of the law which was mercy. This was the difference between Jesus’s interpretation of Torah and the rest of the rabbis whom they followed.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter without neglecting the former (Matt.23: 23).
The writer reminded his readers that taking care of strangers had a hidden blessing. They never knew if and when they had actually been generous to an angel.
Abraham had the unique opportunity of being host to God Himself. Three men came to his tent and he welcomed them and prepared a sumptuous meal for them, not knowing that one of them was God visiting him in human form, and that the other two were angels. What if Abraham had sent them on their way without showing kindness to them?
The angel of the Lord had a message for him that he had been longing to hear for twenty five years.
“I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son” (Gen. 18: 10).
God had promised the childless couple a son. God had promised Abraham offspring as numerous as the sand on the sea shore and the stars in the sky, but it did not happen. Was God having him on? Abraham had begged God for a son but twenty five years went by and no baby boy arrived. In any case the elderly couple was way beyond having kids. They knew the drill!
But God came when all hope was gone – a stranger materialising out of the summer heat to announce that it was time. What if Abraham has missed the cue?
“Suffer with those who suffer,” was the next instruction. Why? We should be grateful that we don’t have to face what some of our fellow believers are facing at the hands of religious barbarians who think they are pleasing their god by being murders. What kind of a god is that? But that is not enough. Our writers says, “Don’t forget them. Identify with them.” We can’t physically be with them and suffer alongside them but we can pour our energies into praying for them. What will that do?
Aside from God supplying grace to them in their time of need, being aware of their suffering will not only soften our hearts towards those in need, but also towards their persecutors. Have you thought about that? Are we to hate them? No! Jesus did not hate those who crucified Him. He prayed for them. They were in line for God’s judgment. Jesus said that we are not to fear those who can only kill our bodies. We are to fear God who has the power to throw both bodies and souls into hell.
When we think of the terrible consequences of their actions, our hearts should go out to God in prayer for His mercy to be revealed to them. “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.
It’s the power of the gospel that transforms us from revenge to forgiveness and from hatred to compassion.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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