WELCOMING “ANGELS UNAWARES”
With so much attention these days on the plight of Syrian refugees, it is natural for us as Christians to search our own history and beliefs for wisdom about how to respond.
As we approach the Christmas season we recall that in the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus—one from the gospel of Matthew, one from Luke—Jesus’ own family were, in one instance, “displaced persons” uprooted for the sake of a national census and, in the other, refugees sent by God to Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod. In other words, in order to underline their vulnerability and their complete reliance upon God, they were pictured as being without a home of their own.
In the teaching of Jesus we hear again and again of God’s special care for the poor and the marginalized, sometimes called his “preferential option” for the poor. If the stories of his birth bear any resemblance to historical fact, it would be understandable that Jesus was at pains to ensure that his followers would always measure their love for God by the actual care they showed for the poor and dispossessed.
In the early teachings of the church we hear echoes of the Hebrew scriptures where peoples and nations are judged not by their piety but by their treatment of the weakest in their midst—including the sojourner. Perhaps the most alluring teaching comes from the letter to the Hebrews: in showing hospitality to strangers some have actually “welcomed angels unawares”.