Throughout my three years in law school, though, there was one word that my professors never uttered and my classmates and I never mentioned. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw it referenced in any of the hundreds of Supreme Court cases that I read. Yet this one word—hospitality—is integral to the biblical idea of justice, order, and flourishing.
Justice Is Personal
Justice needs a face. Yes, God created the world to have order and, in a broken world, we need curators of that order—governing bodies to cultivate the conditions for the various spheres of society to flourish. Yes, we need to work in the government and advocate in the public square.
But seeking justice must always be personal. It must always include vulnerability and hospitality—not just to members of the household of faith, but to strangers as well (cf. Heb. 13:2). For we cannot have true justice unless we remember that each person is made in God’s image. “Hospitality is saying, ‘You are significant. I honor you. I love you. You are under my roof,’ says John Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association. “Love and hospitality is the platform that makes justice—any kind of justice—available.”
Love Precedes Law
In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is released from prison after having served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread and attempting escape. When he tries to start anew in the town of Digne, though, no one is willing to give him shelter because he is an ex-convict. In desperation, he knocks on the door of the bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenu—whose name means “welcome”—and finds hospitality.
In the morning, Valjean rises early, steals the bishop’s silverware, and leaves. When the police arrest him, they bring him to Bienvenu for accusation. Yet the bishop covers for Valjean, telling the officers that the silverware was a gift. He then picks up the candlesticks, which were not taken, and hands them to Valjean, saying, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” In this act, the bishop extends the ultimate form of hospitality—hospitality of the heart. His gift of grace is an effectual love, a love that invites the ex-convict to live in accordance with the law.
Divine Justice and Hospitality
In much the same way, Christ offered himself for us when we were still strangers (cf. Rom. 5:8). We were once “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
But God set his divine justice on the platform of hospitality and love: “God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).
Few of us work in the public justice system, but all of us can do justice in our lives by showing hospitality. Seeking justice is not fundamentally about designing the right programs and systems, but about living in accord with the true vision of those made in God’s image. All of us can do what one theological teacher suggests: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”
So when we think about these big ideas of justice, order, and flourishing, let us give them a face. Let us welcome the gift of each person—especially the stranger, the poor, the widow, and the orphan—into our homes, our churches, and our hearts. May we be invested, vulnerable, and hospitable, as we increasingly make spaces for them in our lives and places for them at our tables. For they are a gift of God in whom he himself delights.
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