The gospel does not go from crucifixion to crucifixion. It goes from crucifixion to resurrection. We bear witness to this truth when we see, acknowledge, feel, take on, challenge, seek to eradicate and redeem suffering and injustice. Click To Tweet
A coalition of over 100 non-profit organisations, think tanks, businesses and faith groups, including the CTBI Churches’ Refugee Network (CRN) and five major churches, launched a campaign last week to give people seeking asylum the right to work. Currently they are forced to live on just £5.39 a day.
This Weekly Focus is taken from Hospitality and Sanctuary for All, our resource for Racial Justice Sunday 2015 written by Inderjit Bhogal, and looks at the redemptive gift in the suffering of the stranger.
From his childhood to his crucifixion, Jesus Christ was familiar with the experience of vulnerability, rejection, persecution and suffering. In many ways he was a stranger in his own community. Click To Tweet
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53 (NRSVA)
Most refugees and people seeking sanctuary come from situations of pain and suffering. We cannot ignore this pain and suffering. Many of those who suffer thus identify with, and find meaning in the experience of the rejection, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Bible reflects the stories and experiences of a travelling people, undertaking difficult journeys. Their hopes lie in a bruised Messiah.
In Isaiah 53 there is a humbling acknowledgement of the “suffering servant” who is:
- Afflicted and acquainted with suffering
- Considered to be of no account
- Taken away by a perversion of justice
But it is the suffering and “stripes” and “bruises” of the suffering servant by which “we are healed”.
In the New Testament, Jesus is seen to embody the suffering servant. From his childhood to his crucifixion, Jesus Christ was familiar with the experience of vulnerability, rejection, persecution and suffering. In many ways he was a stranger in his own community. Even his own disciples did not always understand or recognise him. He was arrested though he had committed no crime. There were those who “stood up and gave false testimony against him” [Mark 14:57]. He was held captive. He was tortured. He was crucified outside the City gates, the ultimate acknowledgement that human community is defined by who is “in” and who is an “outsider”. Jesus was betrayed, denied and abandoned by his best friends. This hurt him the most. He was nailed and crucified.
The earliest disciples and followers of Christ saw him as the “suffering servant” who bore the weight and agony of human sin as he hung on a cross.
The insight and truth proclaimed in this Biblical testimony is that salvation and liberation comes through suffering that is taken on and redeemed [Luke 24:26]. The crucifixion of Christ declares that God is with us in the human agonies and tragedies, and gives us hope in our most awful experiences. The crucifixion of Christ declares the depth of God’s presence and love, reminds us there is nothing worthwhile without cost, and insists on maintaining hope. The resurrection declares that there is never a dead end. There is the reality of hurt, and there is always hope. In the words of Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”.
The gospel does not go from crucifixion to crucifixion. It goes from crucifixion to resurrection.
We bear witness to this truth when we see, acknowledge, feel, take on, challenge, seek to eradicate and redeem suffering and injustice. We cannot live with the gospel if we allow people to go from torture to torture, homelessness to homelessness, persecution to imprisonment.
We are called to practice the gospel by listening to, paying attention to, entering and identifying with the stories of pain and suffering that refugees and those seeking sanctuary, bear and tell. The weight of the sin of the world which is exposed when self interest makes us indifferent to the security of others.
In working with those who are hurting through the violence of war, famine, poverty and persecution, we together bear the weight of sin; we together struggle together for justice, and seek the freedom of all. Thus we share in God’s work of grace and redemption, and find hope and meaning in “the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
Refugees and those seeking sanctuary among us are messengers and witnesses of God. Cyrus the Persian, someone outside the Covenant Community, was an instrument of Gods liberation [Isaiah 44: 28-45:1]. There is a promise in Scripture, that it is through those of a different language that God shall speak [Isaiah 28: 9-11].
Far from being a drain on our resources, those who come to live among us enrich us, they are messengers of God, and reveal to us the weight of the sin of the world.