In the light of a recent stunt in Parliament and watching what’s happening in the USA and places like Spain and Finland I have decided to stray from this Sunday’s lectionary and instead look at Isaiah 56. In Isaiah 56 we are confronted with the mention of immigrants and outcasts. For some of us being an immigrant, being an outsider has been part of our family life albeit for some it has been more painful.
But do we all know what it is like to be on the outside looking in. I would hope so. We all know what it feels like to be left out of an inside joke or conversation. We all know what it is like to feel as though we don’t belong somewhere. God’s heart has always been for the outsider. Even when God was choosing to bless Israel, it was not at the expense of all the other nations of the earth.
We tend to think in an either/ or mentality as if God has to choose one nation over another. Instead, God chose to bless the nation of Israel in order that all the families of the earth would be blessed through them. Please note that in order to bless us all. I am reminded once again that in Gods eyes we are all the beloved even though some of us may want to destroy this state of being the beloved.
I wonder how God would view our current Australian approach to those immigrants, whom we place in camps and denigrate and demonise. Yet, these people are outcasts trying to find a place to call home, a place of peace and acceptance. Sadly, our corporate approach as a Nation led by our politicians does not reflect our call as Christians to open our hearts to the outsider.
Notice the words of blessing for immigrants in Isaiah 56. They are active words; actions God will perform. God will bring them to his holy mountain. He will not merely hope that they come on their own. His welcome is intentional and proactive. God will bring them joy in his house of prayer. His desire is not that they simply tolerate or find a place to exist in his house, but that they rejoice and thrive. He will accept their sacrifices and worship.
This is in direct contradiction to what was happening when Jesus saw the money-changers in the temple many years after Isaiah wrote these words. Jesus saw foreigners being excluded and taken advantage of and not allowed in the temple. And, he was angry about it and took serious action.
Along with the readings from scripture this week we can see both acceptance and blessing. Jesus recognises he was sent specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel” and yet, he honours the faith of a Canaanite woman and heals her daughter. We can see that even though God has wholeheartedly accepted Gentiles into his family, he has not rejected his own people, the people of Israel. Our God desires to have mercy on all. Also, we can see God’s control of the details of life.
Both Isaiah 56 and Genesis 45 reference someone who is outside of their country/ culture of origin. Joseph was an Israelite living in Egypt. The people God is gathering into his house in Isaiah are “immigrants.” To help one understand this call by God to welcome the stranger and the sojourner, I suggest it would be helpful to talk to an immigrant and to hear their story. People come regularly to our communities from overseas and having been one of those who albeit from close by has experienced being an outsider, not only here in Australia but during my time in the Solomon Islands.