Faith in action
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As Christians we believe that human beings are created in the image of God and that as bearers of God’s image, we are inherently worthwhile and deserving of dignity and respect. This is vital to the Christian story and in understanding God’s love for all people. We have a profound link as a human family – God calls us to be God’s children through the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus calls on us to recognise each other as brothers and sisters in his love: ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (John 13:34).
To understand God’s will and call on us to show compassion, Jesus explains to the Pharisees that all the law and prophets hang on the commandments to love God and love one’s neighbour as oneself (Matthew 22:40). In drawing near to God we cannot leave our world and neighbour behind us because we are in communion with the God who loves our neighbour.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), God is identified as the God who cares for the exiled and the persecuted refugee. ‘Hospitality to the stranger became one of the strongest moral forces in ancient Israel.’
Scripture also frames the entire salvation story as one of hospitality, grace and welcome. In biblical terms, salvation is a welcoming home.
Jesus reveals himself as the ‘friend of sinners’ and frequently portrays heaven as a place of lavish, gracious, ‘borderless’ hospitality. The writer to the Hebrews urges Christians to ‘not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13:2) In other words, grace received implied that grace be given. One might even say that the first instinct of grace is hospitality.
The way we respond to strangers and to the poor identify us as people of faith.
The call to stand with and care for those are marginalised, oppressed and persecuted is clear in the Scriptures and in the traditions of the faith: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’ (Isaiah 1:17) and ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these [those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned] who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40). Since its beginning, the Christian church has sought to extend the love of God to those in need through care and service.
In word and deed, Jesus challenged the systems and structures of society (including religious ones) that forced people to the margins of their communities. He spoke to and ate with people who had been rejected by more ‘respectable’ members of society. Inspired by Jesus and the prophets, as Church we must seek to fulfil our calling to challenge society’s injustice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that Christians shouldn’t just be pulling people out of the river – we should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in. Structures and systems that keep people in situations of injustice must be changed. This is the work of advocacy.