Foreigners

Somebody new joined the church this week, and became one of the most talked about things in the town. Indeed, when some of us were in Yorkshire yesterday, the first thing the monks at Mirfield asked was 'how is the eagle owl?' Have you seen Delilah? She has been in the trees of the churchyard and on the roof, and seems to be thriving eight weeks after escaping from captivity. She’s been eating pigeons and picking off chickens in Nelson Street. Several people have passed through the churchyard to see her. But she has not been popular with everyone. The local birds hate her, and want her out. The blackbirds and the crows continually pester her and mob her and try to drive her away.

That hatred is as intense as was the hatred between Jews and Samaritans that Jesus alludes to in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Their hatred went back hundreds of years; the Jews thought the Samaritans were collaborators, they had married foreign invaders, they weren’t pure, proper Jews.

The story that Jesus told would have been shocking to the Jews and the young lawyer, forced to admit through gritted teeth, that it was the Samaritan, not the Jews who had been a good neighbour to the man in distress.

He was testing Jesus. He wanted to know whom he was responsible for. How many neighbours did God command him to love? Was it his family, those who lived in his street or his town, his tribe?  Jesus turned the tables on him,  and showed him that he had a duty of care to all whom he encountered in the course of his daily life. He used the shocking image of a foreigner, a Samaritan, going out of his way to help the injured stranger.

What do you think of foreigners? I sometimes hear people tell me, 'I’m not racist, but I don’t like…......' We have many people in this town and around who have come from other countries to work here, people whom we just lump together as foreigners.  

Have you ever been a foreigner? Whenever you go abroad on holiday you are a foreigner. The city of Jaen in the south of Spain, where I lived for two years, had a population of 100,000 Spanish, and about 30 Brits, the locals used to joke this was not an English invasion, but a plague. They were so kind to all of us and welcomed us. But I remember how vulnerable I felt, when I couldn’t speak the language, when so much of what went on I did not understand,  how ordinary things in life were complicated. I appreciated any kindness and assistance.

The family unit is very strong in Spain, with the mother at the centre. I was in a supermarket queue there recently and a west African chap didn’t have enough money to pay for his groceries after he had counted out his coins. The Spanish lady behind made up the difference immediately, ‘poor chap,’ she said, ‘so far from home without his mother to look out for him.’

In a moment we will baptize a baby girl, and I will ask her parents if they will bring her up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbour. This commandment, this golden rule  is at the heart of the Christian faith, that we try to love God and try to treat all people equally, as we would hope that they would treat us.

Being a Christian means trying to put yourself in the shoes of others, to think what it is like to be them, in need or distress, and what you might hope for from others.

The true Christian says 'your problem is my problem'. They do not pass by on the other side. We are all made in the image of God. If we love him, we will care for whoever needs our help, without exception, and no buts.