Skip to main content

Kindness to Strangers

Isaiah 16.3-5
At the height of the EU Referendum campaign some of the Leavers unveiled a poster showing a long line of Syrian refugees snaking towards the borders of the European Union. The subtext was that, if we stayed in the Union, these people might arrive on our shores, taking our homes and jobs, our school places and hospital beds.  Even some Leavers were shocked at the implicit rejection of an ‘open-hearted humanitarian response to appalling distress,’ the response someone has said we should be expected to make when a country like Syria is torn apart by warfare.
This was the situation which faced the people of Judah at the time of Isaiah. There had been deep enmity between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel and their Moabite neighbours. King Omri of Israel - someone the Bible doesn’t like very much, actually - oppressed Moab during his reign so, in revenge King Mesha of Moab attacked Israel after the death of Omri’s son Ahab, and dragged away the sacred vessels from God’s shrine and took them to the temple of his god, Chemosh. We know this because he left a record carved in stone, celebrating his victory. We also know that the Bible accuses the people of Moab of sacrificing their own children to Chemosh, which is presumably why the Bible calls the worship of Chemosh ‘disgusting’.
This long standing enmity between Israel and Judah on the one side, and Moab on the other, makes it all the more surprising, therefore, that Isaiah reports the appeal from the defeated people of Moab for sanctuary in Judah. ‘Be kind and help us!’ they plead. ‘Shade us from the heat of the noonday sun. Hide our refugees! Don’t turn them away. Let our people live in your country.’
It has to be said that Isaiah isn’t always as forgiving. He has some particularly unkind things to say about the powerful empire of Babylon and its rulers, but he confesses that, ‘Deep in my heart I hurt for Moab.’ He mourns the refugees’ fate and sheds tears for them, even though he believes it is God’s will that their country has been brought low.
Perhaps part of the reason is that the people of Israel, Judah and Moab shared similar dialects of the same language. One of the most revered people in the Bible, Ruth the grandmother of King David, was also from Moab. Isaiah finds himself recognising the shared humanity of the Moabite, Israelite and Judahite peoples.
He promises the Moabites that they will not need to be refugees forever. ‘Moab, your cruel enemies will disappear,’ he says. ‘They will no longer attack and destroy your land.’ But he goes further: ‘Then a kingdom of love will be set up, and someone from David’s family will rule with fairness. He will do what is right     and quickly bring justice.’ In other words, in Isaiah’s opinion these foreigners deserve the same God-given destiny as his own people.
That’s a far cry from our own reluctance to open our hearts and our land today to people being attacked by cruel enemies. We often imagine that we have made progress on the attitudes and behaviour of the past. This passage should give us pause for thought.


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

True Love

Mark 12:28-34 In 1981 Prince Charles was put on the spot during a television interview with Lady Diana Spencer, his new fiancee. The interviewer asked them if they were in love. Lady Diana’s instant response was , ‘Of course!,’ but Prince Charles replied, ‘Whatever “in love” means.’ Now in case you think Prince Charles is just a bit of a cold fish, on National Poetry Day 2015 he read a poem on Radio 4, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robbie Burns. I thought, ‘This is going to be a bit wooden,’ but I was wrong. He read the poem so movingly that Clarence House has made it available on YouTube and Twitter. Listening to him it was impossible to escape the conclusion that he now knows what being “in love” means. O my Love is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Love is like the melody, That's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I; And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry. But what does being “in …

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…