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Hospitality and Sanctuary: Redemptive gift in the suffering of the stranger

By Inderjit Bhogal

Last year, 51 million people were forcibly displaced globally. Over the next 20-30 years we will see huge movements of people as a result of environmental degradation, climate change, famine, war and persecution. It is a sign of our times and we are required to pay attention to it. Is there a distinctively Christian understanding of this and response to it? What might it mean to recognise and respond to the redemptive possibilities in welcoming the stranger?

Most refugees and people seeking sanctuary come from situations of pain and suffering. We cannot ignore or tolerate this pain and suffering. Many of those who suffer thus identify with and find meaning in the experience of the rejection, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We want to eradicate suffering, but there is also the gospel call to redeem suffering.

Biblical witness declares that redemption comes through bearing suffering, not ignoring or evading it [Luke 24:26]. In Isaiah 53 there is a humbling acknowledgement of the “suffering servant” who is:

  • Afflicted and acquainted with suffering
  • Considered to be of no account
  • Taken away by a perversion of justice

But it is the suffering, stripes and bruises of the suffering servant by which we are healed.

From his childhood to his crucifixion, Jesus Christ was familiar with the experience of vulnerability, rejection, persecution and suffering. In many ways he was a stranger in his own community. Even his own disciples did not always understand or recognize him. He was arrested though he had committed no crime. There were those who stood up and gave false testimony against him [Mark 14:57]. He was tortured. He was crucified outside the city gates, the ultimate acknowledgement that human community is defined by who is “in” and who is an “outsider”. Jesus was betrayed, denied and abandoned by his best friends. This hurt him the most. He was nailed and crucified.

The earliest disciples and followers of Christ saw him as the “suffering servant” who bore the weight and agony of human sin as he hung on a horrible cross.

The insight and truth proclaimed in this biblical testimony is that salvation and liberation comes through suffering that is taken on and redeemed. The crucifixion of Christ declares that God is with us in the human agonies and tragedies, and gives us hope in our most awful experiences. The crucifixion of Christ declares the depth of God’s presence and love, and insists on maintaining hope. The resurrection declares that there is never a dead end. There is the reality of hurt, and there is always hope. In the words of Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”.

The gospel does not go from crucifixion to crucifixion. It goes from crucifixion to resurrection. We bear witness to this truth when we acknowledge, challenge and redeem suffering and injustice. We cannot live with the gospel if we allow people to go from torture to torture, homelessness to homelessness, persecution to imprisonment.

We are called to practise the gospel by listening to, entering into and identifying with the stories of pain and suffering told by refugees and those seeking sanctuary. In their stories we shall know the weight of the sin of the world, and glimpse a new world.

In working alongside and with those who are hurting through the violence of war, famine, poverty and persecution, we together take on human sin and bear its weight; we shall struggle together for justice and seek the freedom of all. Thus we share in God’s work of grace and redemption.

This article is an extract from ‘Hospitality and Sanctuary for All’ by Inderjit Bhogal.  The complete study resource is available to download on our blog site, or request a copy.