Monday, August 24, 2015
Just Thoughts: "I was a Stranger in a Strange Land . . . ."
Just Thoughts: "I Was a Stranger in a Strange Land . . ."
Unless you are of Native American heritage, your family has an immigration story. This puts you in good company, because both the Old and New Testaments are full of immigration and exile stories. We hear of the Hebrews in exile in Egypt or in Babylon, where they are "strangers in a strange land." The hymn sung years ago by Linda Ronstadt captures it: "By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, and there he wept, when we remembered Zion . . . Carry us away captivity, require from us a song, but how can we sing . . . in a strange land?" Immigration and exile are full of tears and loneliness. That is why the Bible honors the tradition of hospitality and kindness toward strangers and immigrants.
Jesus, scripture tells us, was in exile in Egypt as a little baby. And growing up in Galilee, he was far away from the centers of power in Jerusalem or Rome. Even when he was acknowledged as a great preacher and prophet in Jerusalem, he was recognized by his accent and ways as an outsider (same was true for his disciples, as we see in the Passion and Death narratives). Many of the stories about Jesus depict him treating outsiders, Samaritans, fallen women, sinners, tax collectors, lepers, with the greatest respect, kindness, and love.
So the kind treatment of immigrants and outsiders and minorities is a central them of Judaeo-Christian scripture and tradition. It is not optional. All our families have immigration stories. That's why the phrase "the stone that the builder rejected has become the cornerstone" is repeated so often in our readings at mass. We were (or maybe are) that rejected stone--and we will be the cornerstone of the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God that we are trying to build.
Be kind to immigrants. Like them, we were once strangers in a strange land.
[This essay was written for St. Mary's Painesville--for the August 30, 2015 bulletin.]