On Anti-Asian Misoxenia: The Christ Hymn and God’s Reckless Love for the Outsider
Did you watch the video? The one where the Asian woman gets assaulted in plain sight? And bystanders not only turn a blind eye, but they close the door to their building to keep the ruckus outside, to keep themselves safe. I watched the video several times in disbelief, even though I knew it would give me nightmares.
The news reports keep calling it “xenophobia.” I know that is a conventional term, but it offends me. This isn’t fear. It’s hate. The true word for it is “misoxenia,” hatred and cruelty towards the foreigner. (I’m afraid of snakes, but I’m never gonna attack one.) What has happened in broad daylight is far more than annoyance or fear, it’s malice. And the real danger, the thing that gives me those nightmares, it’s not just the attacker. It’s everybody else who turns their back on the foreigner. That’s what we fear, that we become the alien, the sub-human that is not worth protecting or saving. We become disposable.
What is amazing about God, the God of the Gospel, the God of Messiah Jesus, is that He has deep love and compassion for the outsider, the foreigner, the alien. What other people call disposable, he calls treasure. What other people see as alien, he sees as family. When others say, “Go home,” he says, “come to me.”
The Philippian Christ Hymn (Phil 2:6-11) showcases the “xenophilious” (outsider-loving) heart of God and action of Jesus.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Paul’s ode to Jesus presents him at first as a kind of celestial being, robed in glory on high—i.e., not one of us. Through God’s compassion and pity, he sees our human plight, our suffering and misery, and he transforms his only Son, Jesus. Jesus not only comes to us from outside, he becomes one of us, even like the very lowest of us—like a slave. (Many slaves in the Roman world were foreigners taken captive in war, by the way). He becomes an outsider to his own kind in a way (the heavenly host), to become one of us. God could have turned his back on us, he could have “closed the door” to shut out our cries and misery. But driven by love and compassion for the least and the last, for the foreigner and the outsider, he came to us when we could not go to him.
The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus was not an undoing of his enfleshment, so to become a glory being only again, to transform out of his human body. God exalted Jesus as a new kind of being, bridging two worlds (heaven and earth) in a new way. We know Jesus now as one of us (human) and not one of us (divine). I will never be a hated outsider to God because Jesus has made himself like me.
The Christ Hymn is surely a meditation on the supreme love of God and the divine humility of Christ. But I am convinced it is also a summons to imitate the ways of God. To adopt the mindset of Christ. And what was Christ thinking? He was thinking, how can I go to them? How can I become one with them? How can I love and protect them? How can I make the suffering foreigner part of my beloved family?
Paul goes on to make that enigmatic statement about the Philippians “work[ing] out [their] salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). Whatever else it means, it has centrally to do with cruciformity, applying the pattern now made manifest by the self-giving Son of God who lowered himself. He emptied himself to make us a crown. He now calls us to shoulder a cross.
We combat fear with education. Ok, but that is not enough. We are dealing with misoxenia, a hatred that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.
We must fight hate with a burning white heat of love that transforms the alien, the outsider, the despised into friend and family.
Next time you dare to sing an ode to Jesus, be ready to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because loving the stranger is the dangerous labor of the gospel.