With God no longer nearby, Israel finds themselves vulnerable to neighboring, inhospitable empires. Once again, they become oppressed strangers in strange lands, constantly at risk of being exiled or exterminated by their captors. Even when they’re able to return home and rebuild their city and God’s house, they find that their home really isn’t theirs anymore; now, it belongs to the empire who owns, taxes, and mistreats them. The few Israelites who retain any social power—the religious leaders—respond to this hostility by drawing thicker and stricter lines between those who are welcome and those who aren’t. Growing up in Israel now means living in an inhospitable society within an unwelcoming empire.
And that’s when God, filled with compassion, steps down to welcome them back once more; only this time, God welcomes them in person.
God, in person.
Hospitality incarnate. God’s full self, welcoming people just as they are. Like it used to be, way back when.
In order to welcome people back, God takes the ultimate risk—because hospitality demands risk!—and becomes a person, a person who requires hospitality. A baby who needs a mother to clothe and feed him. A boy who needs a community to raise and support him. A man who is vulnerable to inhospitality and even death. In other words, Jesus comes both to welcome people and to give people a chance to welcome him.
And in case there was any question as to his purpose in stepping down to earth, Jesus makes it explicitly clear that he had come to welcome the unwelcomed.
Look at some of the stuff he says:
Like his first sermon, which is all about welcoming the marginalized and freeing the oppressed.
Or the story he tells about the father who welcomes his rebellious son back home with open arms and a lavish party.
Or the one about the shepherd who looks goes to extravagant lengths to bring a single lost sheep home.
Or the one about the Samaritan—an ethnic outsider—who extends hospitality to a battered Jew.
Or the one about the king who hosts a banquet for the poor, crippled, and outcasts.
Or when he says things like “Invite the poor to dinner,” “When you welcome little children, you welcome me,” and “Only those who offer food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and hospitality to strangers will be welcomed into the kingdom of God.”
Now look at the stuff he does:
He eats with prostitutes.
He eats with tax collectors.
He even eats with preachers.
He invites children to sit with him.
He invites women to study under him.
He feeds the hungry.
He does miracles for Romans.
He touches lepers.
And with every act of divine hospitality, Jesus transforms people. From sick to well. From sinners to missionaries. From dead to alive. From outcasts and enemies to friends of God.
Even Jesus’ opponents understand his mission: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
While this sounds like something God’s people would celebrate, the religious leaders are appalled by Jesus’ hospitality. After all, for the inhospitable and powerful—those for whom people are objects to be used, not friends to be welcomed—hospitality presents a very serious danger. If all are welcome, all are equal, free, and vulnerable. The hospitality of Jesus threatens the security their inhospitality had created.
So, they decide, Jesus must no longer be welcomed.
For further, better reading, I suggest the book of Luke, or any of the other three Gospels.