Encountering foreigners

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

Finally, lockdowns have been lifted, summer has come, and the holidays have begun. Europe is again on the move: people are crisscrossing the Continent and crossing over to it from other continents. Maybe you’re going abroad, or maybe you’re staying at home. Either way, you’re encountering foreigners – and they you.

Such meetings with strangers bring challenges, not merely linguistic or cultural. The first question that we all ask ourselves, according to evolutionary biologists, is do I trust this person? It’s a big question, of possibly existential importance. (We tell our children after all not to talk to strangers.) Not surprisingly, the risks and dangers that strangers present promote prejudices: we instinctively prefer those like us. Our responses – indeed, our lifestyles on the whole – show the worse sides of our nature.

How people tend to be, however, is not necessarily how we should be. Here, the Word is clear. Not only are many Old Testament heroes and heroines themselves outsiders or migrants, but our spiritual ancestors were themselves strangers in Egypt. Most tellingly, our Savior himself was a refugee, fleeing persecution as an infant. He later lived a life of difference: Jesus did not distinguish and prefer but explained that we are to love all whom God places in our path. Furthermore, passages from Moses to the apostles exhort us to show loving care to those who are strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19), to treat each other with respect (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15), and to be welcoming, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 AKJV).

These instructions and exhortations are, however, not other-worldly, oblivious to our personal constraints and the reality of our existence. The word recognizes our human weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We may not, like the Good Samaritan, be able to maintain an ‘open tab’, literally or figuratively, when caring for others. Nor should we treat with those who seek to do us physical or spiritual harm; indeed, we should avoid them, as Paul advises (Romans 16:17). ‘Allophilia’, or positive prejudice, is not a viable corrective to xenophobia.   

Nonetheless, Christians are called on in our interactions, including with strangers, to be in principle open and to show hospitality. As locals and natives, we should suppress the reflex to pull down the blinds, pull up the drawbridge, push off the request for help, and to push back the boat. The golden rule tells us to treat ‘others’ just as we would like to be treated, which in the present context means if we were the visitors or immigrants ourselves.

So, this summer, let us be deliberate in encounters with foreigners during our or their travels. Let us keep in mind that we have the space in chance meetings as in planned get-togethers to settle on the right response, the freedom to decide how to engage with these strangers.

Help us, Lord,
to choose thereby to go beyond our humanness
and show them our humanity.

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