Many countries are inundated with new arrivals; often immigrants fleeing from political and economic upheaval searching for a safe place for their families. Jesus was very clear that, as Christians, we are to provide hospitality for these strangers and foreigners. They may be different from us but that makes no difference to God and He cares about each one. If you think Christians have an exclusive claim to God’s favor, you are going to have issues with this post. But with an open mind and consideration for the Biblical teaching presented you may find yourself adopting sisters and brothers you previously thought unlikely.
God so Loved the World
The Bible doesn’t say, “for God so loved (insert your country here) that he gave his only begotten son.” it says, “for God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son” (John 3: 16). As reiterated throughout the Bible, God doesn’t show favoritism (Romans 2: 10-11). God isn’t interested in blessing one country above others or blessing one religion over others. God’s vision is larger than our human comprehension.
Jesus gave the essence of his teaching—to love God and to love our neighbors. Then someone in the crowd asked, “who is my neighbor!” Jesus answered with the story of the foreign Samaritan of a different tribe and religion who aided a Jew and saved his life (Luke 10: 25-37). This response was a jaw dropper for all, because in Jesus’ day loving neighbors meant loving actual neighbors. Actual neighbors were narrowly defined as members of the same clan, country, and religion. Kith and kin neighbors were the people they were expected to love. The term neighbor didn’t include Amalekites, Jebusites, Philistines, Samaritans. Certainly not! Ancient Israelites were not required to love these foreigners. They could slaughter them if they needed.
Jesus’ interpretation of neighbor amounted to a revolution of the heart. Now the neighbors we are called to love aren’t just from our same clan, religion, and nationality. Now our neighbors include the foreigner, even the detested Samaritan. And loving the foreigner requires respecting their religion and acknowledging their access to God.
Jesus’ Grace Extends to All People
In Acts 10: 1- 16, Peter dreams of animals he’s forbidden to eat by Jewish law. The passage doesn’t get specific; but animals Peter must have seen are pigs, camels, rabbits, ravens, owls, etc. According to Jewish law, this assortment of animals wasn’t allowed to be eaten. Then Peter hears a voice say, “kill and eat.” Peter’s response: “No, these animals are nasty. I won’t eat them.” Then God says to Peter, “don’t call unclean what God has made clean.” After this dream Peter’s ministry changes course. He begins to minister to “unclean” Gentiles.
Over the centuries Christianity’s exclusive claim to salvation was accepted without question. But there is a conflict within the New Testament as to Christianity’s relationship with other faiths. In Acts, Peter says of Jesus “there is salvation in no one else (but Jesus), for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 12). Later in Acts, after Peter has the dream of the “unfit” animals, he states a radically different attitude towards non-Christian religions: “God has shown me I should not call anyone profane or unclean… I truly understand God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (Acts 10: 28, 34- 35). This Jewish view is also expressed in Romans, where Paul says righteous Gentiles will be judged by their own consciences when they meet their maker (Romans 2: 10- 11, 14- 16).
From Christianity’s beginning there was a significant body of opinion that righteous, God-fearing Jews and pagans would be saved. Again and again in the Gospels Jesus’ infinite grace extends to all people, including those of other religions.
Grace Toward Other Faiths
In the New Testament Paul insists the covenant God made with Abraham and Israel can’t be taken back: “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11: 29). Paul’s letter to the Romans also strongly suggests there are two separate covenants for Jews and Christians (Romans 11: 25- 36). It seems Paul turns his missionary effort to the Gentiles and away from the Jews because God already honors a covenant with Israel.
To this day some Christians are infuriated by claims that God shows favor to non-Christians. But throughout the Bible God is often revealed to foreigners—to non-Jews, to non-Christians.
Mother Teresa served all yet was personally ignited by the Gospel. This is the model for the contemporary saint. Mother Teresa adored her Catholic faith, which empowered her outreach to the poorest of the poor. She didn’t insist the poor hear the gospel and accept Jesus as their savior before she bathed and dressed their wounds… Jesus didn’t say “when I was hungry you preached to me and then fed me.” he said, “when I was hungry you fed me” (Matthew 25: 35). Mother Teresa didn’t care exclusively for people of her own faith, as some denominations do. She ministered to everyone she met in need: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist… this is the Gospel spirit of Christ. This is the divine origin of Christian faith. Other exclusive attitudes are of human origin.
Love Beyond Conventional Boundaries
Christian author Amos Smith acknowledges some scriptures, such as John 14: 6, pose challenges. “I am the WAY, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.” Some will point out the matter-of-fact clarity of those words “no one comes to God except through me (Jesus).” Yet, Smith maintains scripture doesn’t present a conflict here. The narrow interpretation of scriptures is the problem. The way he interprets John 14: 6 is the way of self-surrender, the way of joy, the way of forgiveness, the way of love, the way of suffering (the ways of Jesus), are the truth and the life. And people come to God through these ways of Jesus. At this point the some will ask what about Acts 4: 12, John 3: 3, and John 3: 7. Smith concede his spiritual security doesn’t ultimately depend on narrowly defined scriptures. His security depends on the spirit of Christ revealed in the Gospels, which is supercharged with God’s all-inclusive love. Jesus as revealed in the earliest Gospels is the center of the tradition. Apostles like Paul, Peter, and John have a prominent place, but they are church builders. They’re not God’s human incarnation. The New Testament authors are divinely inspired, yet culturally conditioned.
In his book Healing the Divide, Smith tells the following story of Juan Garcia:
A school bus careened off the side of Miller Rd into a lake. Lake water rushed into the open windows and the bus sank. The children locked inside frantically pushed the exit doors. But the weight of the water had sealed them. A truck driver happened to pass by and saw the half-submerged bus. He squeezed the air brakes bringing the truck to a screeching halt. His heart hammered and a light went on in his head, “This is why I took the alternate route. This is Providence.” Without missing a beat, he got out of the truck and reached under his seat for his crowbar. He sprinted down the hill and got on the roof of the bus in a minute flat. On his stomach, he peered upside down through the windshield to see where the kids were located. They were all in the back as the front engine slowly submerged underwater.
He climbed down onto the hood. Then swung the crowbar three times shattering the windshield. With adrenaline high, he pushed his huge body through the jagged window.
From there it was a blur. The crowbar breaking glass and children climbing out of three windows, clambering onto the roof if they could. Juan told the kids to go to land. Two brothers, James and John, were the only children who knew how to swim. They got to shore and found a huge fallen branch from a nearby Douglas fir. They managed to swing the branch onto the bus’s roof. Miraculously, every child shimmied along the branch to shore: 36 total. On the shore they waited for the truck driver. Within 15 minutes the bus was totally submerged. They waited a few more minutes. Light was fading on the horizon. They turned to each other speechless, chests heaving.
Within half an hour a helicopter was on the scene and cars were lined up along the shoreline. That night the kids got into the laps of their sleepless bug-eyed parents and watch the 11:00 o’clock news. They found out the truck driver’s name was Juan Garcia. He had a wife and three children. Juan was on his way home after a long haul. The sheriff said he didn’t understand what Juan’s truck was doing so far from the Interstate. Apparently, Juan didn’t take the Interstate home, which would have made the most sense. He took an alternate route. A reporter recapped the story of a bus coming back from a field trip to a remote ranch… Juan had valiantly risked his life to save the children. But while shoving his massive body through the broken windshield, he had impaled himself on a long shard of glass. His adrenaline lasted until the last kid was safely out of the bus. Then Juan passed out from blood loss and drowned.
Three days passed. On the same Saturday night, James, John and Mary all dreamed they saw Juan in the wee hours. In time, with the help of their parents, James, John, Mary and nine others commission the school for a Juan Garcia memorial garden. And over the years, these twelve children honored Juan’s memorial with flowers on the day of his death and on the third day when Juan had appeared to them. The other 24 kids all had forgotten about Juan. Some schoolchildren remembered the name of the man who rescued them from their sinking bus. Other schoolchildren didn’t remember the name of their rescuer, yet were saved nonetheless. Juan’s family said Juan was a humble man and he would have been honored by their tribute. The fact that 24 kids forgot who saved them didn’t seem to bother the Garcia family (Matthew 6: 3).
Jesus’ Redemption is Not Mouthed by All
As John’s first letter states, “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 2). When Jesus died, he didn’t die for a select few who acknowledged him as redeemer. He died for the transgressions of all. Jesus is the redeemer of humanity, yet the truth doesn’t need to be mouth by all people in the world for its validation.
Affirmation that all humans have access to God is the direct implication of Jesus love in the Gospels—a love reaching out to Gentiles and Jews, slaves and free, men and women, Samaritans (foreigners), prostitutes, lepers, thieves, and extortionists (tax collectors). Also, I’m convinced that denying others access to God is a giant step in the process of dehumanization, which leads to the justification and execution of violence.
Promoting peace is a job for the guardians of the world’s sacred traditions who teach us each human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1: 27), and who teach us reverence and awe before a God too large to put into any corner or cubby.
I end with Jesus words “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees” (Matthew 8: 15). What did Jesus mean by this? He meant to beware of any and all thoughts and systems of exclusion.
For information regarding our natural empathetic responses to others, please read:
If you are shy around foreigners and strangers, this video can start you on a fun new hobby.
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So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1: 27)
but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2: 10-11)
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2: 14- 16)
Healing the Divide; Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots by Amos Smith