“Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God…” (Hymn 686)
Welcoming strangers (and making them friends) is at the heart of our Christian life. It is also a measure of our Christian community. How well do we welcome and include new persons, especially when they are not just like us? The events of Charlottesville remind us how important this is…and what the world looks like when we have not learned this lesson. The ugliness there shows us how far we have to go.
In today’s scriptures, Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his brothers who have fled a famine, and invites them to take refuge in Egypt, where there is food. He and his brothers find forgiveness and a new sense of family.
The Gospel story is a tough one! Jesus at first rejects the Canaanite woman who comes humbly seeking healing for her daughter. We are startled by his harsh, racist words – calling the woman a dog. This kind of tribalism was the norm in Jesus’ world. Fortunately, we see Jesus break out of it, and see the woman as a human being – in fact, a woman of great faith.
One of the differences between Christianity and our mother faith of Judaism is that Christian identity is not tied to ethnic or national identity, nor to a particular place or land. This has allowed our faith in Christ to spread throughout the world, and adapt to many cultures. But human nature seems to love our tribes – identifying ourselves with a group that is distinct from others. Wanting to belong is not a bad thing, but much evil has sprung from the need to set ourselves apart and denigrate other groups. This is the evil of white supremacism.
Christians must guard against denigrating or disrespecting any other communities, and repent of our participation in hateful world views. When I heard a Charlottesville white supremacist lament, “They are pulling up southern culture, white culture, Christian culture by the roots…,” I realized how dangerous this thinking is. As we follow the Way of Christ, we must never let that Way be co-opted by those who seek to use Christianity as a weapon against others. JBM