“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 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.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46
Deeply embedded in the faith story of Jesus’ people is the memory of the times they have found themselves as strangers in a strange land. When Abram and Sarai leave home for economic opportunity in a land they have never seen. When Jacob and his family leave a famine-stricken homeland for Egypt and survival. When Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery and repression. When they find themselves exiled by war into Babylonia and then generations later return home to a land now inhabited by others. Numerous times in the Hebrew scriptures, God says “Remember you were once the stranger, the foreigner, the alien in someone else’s midst. When you encounter the stranger or foreigner in your midst treat them with hospitality.” Exodus 22: 21 says “You shall not wrong or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 says “For the lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. “And Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the lord your God.”
So, no surprise that Jesus continues the call to care for and welcome the stranger and others who are vulnerable. The twist Jesus adds in the parable above is that how one treats the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned is how we are treating him. That statement is a lot to reflect upon, discuss and debate, plan and act upon. And while it doesn’t propose any specific policies or procedures, it does command a certain spirit in which such things are considered. In a portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48), Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, big whoop! If you greet only those folks you know, how does that set you apart? How easy is that? I say to you that you should even love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
On this weekend before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I consider how wrong it is that after many generations, people of color are still treated as strangers and aliens. I consider how wrong it is that we forget the stories of our ancestors, biblical and genetic, who were once strangers and aliens hoping to encounter hospitality, opportunity, patience as they learned a new language and new customs, and respect for the customs and traditions they brought with them. I consider how the narrative might change if we looked at the stranger in the way the Bible and Jesus taught rather than simply as a problem to be solved or a fear to be driven away. And I cannot help but think of Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 where he turns around a man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” to instead ask “What does it mean to BE a neighbor to the stranger we meet on the road, to the broken one whom others are content to walk on by?”
Remember, scripture says, we are all resident aliens on this planet (Hebrews 11:13-16, Philippians 3:20, John 17:16). It’s a good place to start.