Welcoming the Outsider

By Jeremy O’Hare, guest blogger

Jeremy O’Hare is a blogger for a site he and his wife Joselli set up called www.notonlysundays.com. The blog seeks to bring more Bible wisdom to everyday life and issues.  He is active in his local church, loves speaking, writing and works to support small businesses in London.

In May 2016, an awful image hit the headlines. The picture was of a drowned baby in the Mediterranean, held in the arms of its rescuer, who only saw it by chance floating in the ocean. This innocent child, who was found looking out and up, with its arms wide open, could represent much of humanity reaching out to the world in desperate hope.

But for this poor baby, that life and hope was taken away.

We rightly feel deeply impacted when it’s the innocent who suffer, because it’s never their fault. They are the ones who by some cruel twist of time and place are the victims in a world that so often has lost its God given humanity.

But to add to this tragedy is the fact that this is just one picture, one life. We can only begin to imagine the stories of the countless thousands of refugees and migrants who have already lost their lives at sea in a high risk journey, at the mercy of their handlers.

The 18th of December is International Migrants’ Day. I wonder is it a coincidence with the timing so close to Christmas? Because millions of people across the Church, around the world will re-hear the nativity as told in the Gospel of Matthew. We hear of what happens just after the birth of Jesus when a merciless tyrant gripped by his own paranoia orders the massacre of innocent babies, forcing the Holy family to flee to safety. They became refugees, escaping a world that was not of their choosing.

The situation Joseph and Mary found themselves in is not so dissimilar to many today and yet God worked through it, shaping these terrible events for good.

The Church today is called to do just this, because the needs of migrants seeking to find a new life are as many as they are urgent.

More than a million migrants arrived into Europe in 2015, the vast majority fleeing war, civil strife and failed states with large numbers again arriving this year by boat and land crossings.

The Church continues to provide practical help, and to speak for the rights of those who will find themselves lost in ‘the system’, and people who are most vulnerable to exploitation, be they women, children, or those with medical needs or disability.

When headlines change and the shock of an image or story is forgotten, it is tempting to just get on with life and hope the problem disappears. Which of course, it never does. We are meant to see the world as God sees it and to bring light and hope to those who have experienced only darkness and despair.  In our time, this is the experience of the refugee.

I believe one of the biggest moral questions of our time is how we welcome the outsider.  How do we provide sanctuary for those fleeing war, persecution, poverty and even the effects of climate change? And yet how can this be balanced with the needs of our own host populations?

We can’t be naive to the challenges this question raises. But when the news is often dominated by those who wish to stigmatise the migrant for political or sensational ends, then the Church at the very least must speak for those who don’t get heard, who are most vulnerable and yet who share the dignity of being made in God’s image.

This is risky. But our Lord’s whole life was one of risk; to bring justice, mercy, peace, reconciliation and welcome, to the outsider.

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.