No predetermined outcomes, and death is always a possibility. Yet resistance is never futile. It’s about our character. Not just then, but now.
I have a theological hero. He wasn’t the most well-behaved man on the face of the earth. He was human just as I am.
Yet he’s one of my heroes. He showed me how to listen to myself, to Christian scripture, and to what’s happening around me. With a newspaper in one hand, a Bible in the other.
Actually, it’s about more than listening. It’s about looking in a mirror and discovering painful reflections of myself. Often as a collaborator, not as a member of the faithful resistance.
Karl Barth came of age during the early years of Hitler’s reign. A citizen of Switzerland, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of theology in Germany.
Barth cut his theological teeth on Hitler’s final solution for Jews and others. He was one of a small number of resisting theologians, and an influential member of the ‘confessing’ churches movement that refused to support Hitler.
His theological work is, in part, a critique of Hitler’s brutal treatment of Jews and others, plus a vision for something different. Here’s what it would cost:
- Total allegiance to following Jesus of Nazareth, a practicing Jew whose total allegiance lay with Yahweh.
- Commitment to one simple theme: Hospitality to strangers. This habit of life challenges every human interaction, including Hitler’s behavior, and the churches’ treatment of Jews and others strangers.
- This stranger (neighbor) is the person or group of persons you’d rather not see or meet today. Maybe they’ll give you a mortal headache. Or beat you up and leave you lying on the side of the road to die. You never know. It’s easy to wish you could banish ‘those people’ who annoy, threaten or terrify you.
Hospitality toward strangers sounds sweet, even though it’s neither sweet nor harmless. True hospitality toward strangers is a life-changer for the hostess or host, not just the stranger. It can lead to life; it can also lead to death. As it did for Jesus Christ.
During the past decades, we’ve become polarized into stranger groups. It still happens today in churches, between religions, in public and private institutions, news media and families. Many groups vet members formally and informally by political or religious tests of various kinds.
Given today’s challenges, what would it take to show hospitality toward strangers?
I’m not naïve. All strangers aren’t safe. Neither is every friend or family member. Wisdom and discernment are necessary, though they can’t guarantee a desired outcome. Nonetheless, we need each other, no matter what the cost. It’s about the content of our character.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2017, edited and reposted 14 May 2020
Image found at islamforchristians.com