In a reaction to the Windrush scandal, calls have been made for the UK government to re-think its immigration policies.
Writing a guest post on the Bishop of Croydon’s blog, Revd Martin Kettle, policy advisor to the Church of England (writing in a personal capacity), argued that Christians do not want a hostile environment but want to love everyone and that means illegal immigrants too. He said that the Christian values running through our country’s self-identity have a real and practical role in the national discourse about immigration – not about hostility and hate but community and love.
The Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK (JRS UK) said the cruelty of the hostile environment agenda demonstrates the need for deep reflection on the inhumane and unethical assumptions that underscore it. Zrinka Bralo, CEO of Migrants Organise, commented that ‘the only right, pragmatic, humane, fair and positive step for any government to take, is amnesty, or regularisation of immigration status… If we could find the courage to deliver the amnesty, the world would not be perfect, but our country would be less divided and we could focus our resources and energies on repairing the damage that fear and hate have caused us.’
'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' - Matthew 25: Click To Tweet
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
In our days of instructions to be wary of strangers it is important to be clear about what is meant in the instruction to ‘welcome the stranger’. In his book Interpretation and Obedience: From Faithful Reading to Faithful Living, Brueggemann offers the following reflections:
In a world of hostility there is a counter-cultural gospel summons to practice hospitality.
The ways communities are structured create insiders and outsiders, those who are like us and those who are different from us, the included and the excluded. The insiders have life and space to be, and are human. The outsiders have no access to life or space to be, and can be seen as less than human.
Some Biblical scholars connect the sociological term ‘habiru’ with the Biblical term ‘Hebrew’, and see it as an alternative rendering of Hebrew. The term ‘Hebrew’ has its root in the verb ‘abar’ meaning ‘to cross over’. The Hebrew thus refers to the one who is dis-placed/uprooted and who crosses over boundaries in the search for survival and life. Brueggemann concludes that the people who finally become the ‘people of God’ in the Hebrew Scriptures are among those whom the empire, for example Egypt, declared ‘strangers’, ‘outsiders’, ‘a threat’.
One of the clearest ways to distinguish between the insider and the outsider is to consider issues around eating and hospitality. For example in Genesis 43: 32, in the Joseph narrative, we read: ‘They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians’. The Biblical witness reflects that the ‘stranger’ is the ‘outsider’ who may defile the ‘insider’ if they were to eat together. But the ‘stranger’ crosses boundaries in the search for space, security and life.
Jesus cuts through boundaries and separation between who or what is considered to be clean or unclean. Perhaps Jesus’ most subversive activity, for which he was criticised, was to eat with those considered to be the outsiders or social outcasts of his day. He expressed his solidarity with the most marginalised people around him by sharing food with them, and eating with them. He connected with people by sharing food with them.
Jesus left an example for his followers. He kept an open table. Our lifestyle should reflect hospitality and solidarity, not hostility and segregation. Sharing food and hospitality with the most marginalised and excluded people is an act of holiness. Hospitality does not defile you, it makes you whole.
The followers of Jesus have seen in him the Good Shepherd [John 10: 11-18]. His ministry prioritised those who were considered to be ‘the least important’ [Matthew 25: 40], and excluded from belonging. He included them by eating with them. He opened his ministry by announcing and pointing to a new community, the Kingdom of God, where the excluded are included [Luke 4: 18-27], and where all are treated to hospitality of the highest order [John 2:1-11].
Communities continue to create outsiders, those who are dis-placed, the ‘strangers’. Jesus said that his followers will see and serve him in those considered to be the least important – Matthew 25: 34-36.
One of the best loved New Testament stories is of encountering the risen Christ in the stranger over a meal, and how he was ‘made known to them in the breaking of the bread’ [Luke 24: 13-35]. We meet God when we break bread with others.
This is beautiful gospel wisdom. Christian Discipleship is about being on the way, following Christ, and encountering Christ in the stranger. The followers of Jesus have no option but to welcome the stranger, and to share good hospitality.
This reflection comes from our 2015 Racial Justice Sunday material and was written by Inderjit Bhogal. Download the resource for more reflections on hospitality and sanctuary.