|Accepting the Stranger in our midst|
On 15 Sep 2010, Tehran released American Sarah Shourd after she accidentally crossed into Iran’s border in July 2009. A 500K bail was paid for her release. Two Americans – Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal remained in captive under the harsh laws of this Islamic state. The release of Sarah Shourd was seen as many as an attempt to deflect the stoning sentence of a woman convicted of adultery.
There were few criticisms of the Islamic Regime for the harsh laws. Surely, the accidental crossing over the border could not justify the imprisonment possibly for years and politicized as a spying case. Some say all the major religions are about love. However, this is not reflective of the reality where many major religions at its core are not about love but based on hundreds of fixed laws to reach heaven and severe punishment for those who failed these laws. The stoning sentence of the Iranian woman is not an exception but reflective of the highly religious outlook of some countries. These countries are also highly anti-gay motivated by their religious faith.
Sarah Shourd was a foreigner stepping into a hostile country whose people were eager to use her as a political and religious opportunity to show their strength and authority. They wanted to show how strong they were by trying to humble the Americans to come begging for their release. Yet, they have shown the opposite, the lack of religious benevolence to the foreigner who just happens to stumble across the border into their territory. How we treat the foreigner is a testimony whether God is with us!
The bible talks much on how we treat the foreigner or the stranger in our midst, those who does not belong to us, to our tribe or religion, and how we should show God’s grace and mercy.
[NIV Mat 25:35] For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
The test of how law minded/religious we are, is how we treat the stranger in our midst. Law based Religions by itself are highly exclusive, for example, non Jews are not permitted into the temple at Jerusalem. Similarly, a non Muslim is not allowed to enter Mecca. When Jesus set this test of Godly faith, He knew that by strict adherence to Jewish laws, they would reject the stranger from other lands just on the account that they were not Jews or did not practise Judaism. Can we see people as humanity? loved by God.
Inviting the stranger into one’s house and to offer a drink and food, is contrary to the religious laws as an association with the unclean, but fulfilled God’s Agape love, grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. Since they were pagans who worship idols, the Jews would be within their rights to do great harm and persecute the strangers in their midst and to chase them away from their towns and cities as being unclean. Yet, rejecting the stranger reflects our rejection of Jesus, for He was the personification of God’s unmerited love, grace and mercy. Jesus was the stranger in their midst travelling from city to city in Judah and proclaiming a Gospel far different from the strict Jewish laws which were devoid of mercy.
The stranger did not deserve grace, neither do we! We are all strangers longing to go back to God, to a heavenly kingdom above. The test of our acceptance of the stranger shows whether we live by religious laws, believing in our own self righteousness, or whether we live by grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How we treat the stranger shows our understanding that we have been forgiven much and is a humble sinner like the stranger, no better, no worst, on a pilgrim journey of faith.
When we walk through the red light districts (eg Geylang in Singapore), are we filled with righteous indignation, or are we filled with humility and compassion. Are we humbled by the grace of God that we do not need to work as sex workers, yet filled with compassion for those who through no choice of their own have to work in such industries for survival. We are no better nor worst, no more righteous. We are no better than the woman sentenced to stoning in Iran based on their religion for adultery.
We are reminded by the new immigration laws in the State of Arizona in America where conservative Christians (ie law based Christian Right) had passed laws which would:-
a) Give powers for the Police to regularly spot check residence and demand proof of citizenship
b) Punish those who shelter and hire illegal immigrants
c) Makes it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant without carrying the necessary documents.
Whilst the State is entitled to discourage illegal immigration, many have made their homes there and had stayed for many years contributing to the economy. They are essentially part of the community. As Christians we are called instead to extend our hand of friendship because of the grace shown in our lives through Jesus Christ.
When we accept the stranger, the question of one’s faith and even sexual orientation is no longer asked. We will accept the stranger unconditionally not because he/she is from our same religion, sexual orientation, race, language group, or culture, but because Christ has accepted us whilst we were yet sinners. He came not to condemn but to show His love for us in His sacrifice and death. When we accept the stranger, we will begin to understand that we too are strangers from the Garden of Eden gone astray from God longing to return to Him.
The Gay community is the stranger in our midst, not conforming the religious notions of sexuality, and a small minority in the midst of a big majority of straight people eager to blame gays for all their moral failings especially if one is religious. Even magazines such as Sojourners calling for Civil Rights for illegal immigrants could not openly support the basic rights and freedoms for gays even though they are citizens of the land. Perhaps gays are far worst than the stranger for they are not even allowed to marry and form a family. Our Christianity if it is indeed of biblical faith must surely bring us to a reflection of God's grace in our lives that we too extend this grace unconditionally lest we become implicated and sinned against the innocent stranger.