[From ws10/16 p. 8 November 28-December 4]

“Do not forget kindness to strangers.” – Hebrews 13:2, ftn. NWT

This study opens with a firsthand account of a man who was not a Witness at the time he arrived in Europe from Ghana.

“He recalls: “I soon realized that most people did not care about me. The climate was also quite a shock. When I left the airport and felt the cold for the first time in my life, I started crying.” Because he struggled with the language, Osei could not find a decent job for over a year. Being far away from his family, he felt alone and homesick.” – par. 1

What will our JW brethren take from this opening account?  Surely they will empathize with the plight of this poor fellow.  Surely they will feel that Witnesses are different from the world in showing kindness to strangers.  One could not be blamed for assuming that this is the whole point of the article.  Otherwise, why open with such an account?  Otherwise, why have a theme text like Hebrews 13:2 which reads:

 “Do not forget hospitality [ftn: “kindness to strangers”], for through it some unknowingly entertained angels.” (Heb 13:2)

Using the example of the patriarchs who received visits from angels appearing as humans, the writer of Hebrews is showing how Christians should be kind to total strangers, since those faithful men of old did not know, at least at first, that these strangers whom they invited into the tents to feed and provide for were in fact angels from God.

They were blessed for their selfless, unprejudiced kindness.

Given the opening paragraph, we might justifiably assume that the man’s case history will be used to show how Jehovah’s Witnesses should act in similar circumstances.

This is interesting because traditionally Jehovah’s Witnesses have been discouraged from engaging in any volunteer efforts or charitable outreach programs to help those in need unless organized directly by the Governing Body or local branch office; and these have been few and far between, limited mostly to recovery efforts following natural disasters.  Additionally, Jehovah’s Witnesses are regularly admonished to avoid all association of a social nature with “worldly people”.  Only if a person expresses interest in becoming a witness is any meaningful social assistance possible, and even then it is very limited until the individual is fully “in” the organization.  So perhaps this article is introducing a change in policy.  Perhaps the Governing Body is now mindful of the only requirement laid upon Paul by the Apostles and older men of Jerusalem as he departed on his preaching work to the gentiles.

“. . .yes, when they came to know the undeserved kindness that was given me, James and Ceʹphas and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars, gave me and Barʹna·bas the right hand of sharing together, that we should go to the nations, but they to those who are circumcised. 10 Only we should keep the poor in mind. This very thing I have also earnestly endeavored to do.” (Ga 2:9, 10)

What a wonderful and welcome change of pace this would be!  Keeping the poor in mind!

Indeed, the opening sentence of the next paragraph stirs our hope that such is now to be the case in the Organization:

Think about how you would like others to act toward you if you were in a similar situation. – par. 2

But alas, our hopes are dashed at reading the very next sentence:

Would you not appreciate a warm welcome at the Kingdom Hall, regardless of your nationality or skin color? – par. 2

Yet another bait and switch.  The man in the first paragraph’s example was not a JW at the time nor is he shown entering a kingdom hall or even being aware of the existence of Jehovah’s Witnesses, yet the application being made is to show kindness to such a man when he shows up at the kingdom hall!

Is the kindness to strangers that Hebrews 13:2 speaks of conditional?  Is it only reciprocal?  Do the strangers have to do something, make some tacit commitment, feign interest even, just to get a little kindness from us?  Is that what it depends on?

Are such acts of kindness to be restricted only to those who first show an interest in becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses?

The follow excerpts seem to support that conclusion.

“…how can we help those from a foreign background to feel at home in our congregation?” – par. 2

“Today, we can be sure that Jehovah is equally concerned about people from a foreign background who attend meetings in our congregations.” – par. 5

“We can show kindness to newcomers from a foreign background by warmly greeting them at the Kingdom Hall.” – par. 9

“Since Jehovah has “opened to the nations the door to faith,” could we not open our own door to strangers who are “related to us in the faith”?” – par. 16

These excerpts are confirmed by a reading of the entire article.   There are no examples given nor any exhortation made for us to go out of our way to help a stranger or foreigner in need unless he has first shown some interest in becoming one of us.  This is conditional kindness, love at a price.   Can we find an example of this in the ministry of Jesus or the apostles?  I think not.

There is nothing wrong with eradicating racial prejudice, but that’s only a small fraction of the Scriptural appeal made at Hebrews 13:2.  What about showing kindness and hospitality to strangers in need no matter what their race is, even if they are of the same race as we are?  What about being kind to a stranger who is not a Jehovah’s Witness and not even interested in becoming one?  Is our love to be conditional?  Is preaching to them the only way we can express our love for our enemies?

In short, the only thing wrong with the instruction of this week’s Watchtower is that is doesn’t go far enough.  That would be okay if there were a follow-up article that expanded on the full application of Hebrews 13:2, but there is none to be found.  The application stops here.  Sadly, another opportunity missed.

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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