Again and again in the Bible, God instructs us to care for the aliens living among us. To treat the foreigner, or person of foreign descent, who has chosen to live alongside us, as one of us. This instruction is not simply a matter of hospitality, important though that is, but of self-knowledge. Do this, remembering that you were once aliens in the land of Egypt; that you were once exiles in Babylon. To forget is to become alienated from ourselves.
I’m struck by how prominent a sense of alienation is today, and in particular by how many people feel like an alien in their own land.
This is true of those to whom the rise of populism appeals, and to those who are bewildered by it. True of those, in the UK, who voted for Brexit, and of those who voted to Remain. True of those who voted for Trump, in the US, and for Democrats in Trump’s America. True in the resurgence of nationalism across Europe. True, perhaps, also for those resisting regimes in Hong Kong and Sudan and Venezuela and Burma...
It is true for British ex-pats who would rather be ‘legitimately’ foreigners in a foreign land than the cognitive dissonance of feeling like aliens in their own country. It is true for young people facing global environmental crisis while the grown-ups squabble over who owns the toys in the burning tree-house.
Into this backdrop, the New Testament (and especially letters such as 1 Peter, and Hebrews) speaks of living as strangers in the world. Not because our home is away from this planet, but because our identity is not primarily shaped by nation and empire, but by a kingdom that embraces all as welcomed stranger, and a king who lives among the displaced and dispossessed.
We’re all human. All in the same boat. And we all forget, over and over again, and need to be instructed, to rediscover ourselves, in the eyes of the alien in our midst.
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