The problem with strangers is that they can be a little strange. One time I gave a guy a sandwich and he gave me a pair of blue shoes. It’s not really weird, just unexpected. The shoes were really soft, so they gave my feet some relief.
There’s a lot of teaching about strangers in the Hebrew and Christian scripture. A lot of the time, the point was just because you don’t know someone, doesn’t mean you have permission to treat them badly. In fact,
“Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!” (Hebrews 13:1, 2, The Message)
It turned out, though, that for some people, prestige was more important than hospitality. For them, looking good, elegant even, was more important than being in right relationship. When They observed this, Jesus had a lot to say.
They called out the religious leaders of the day specifically pointing out the lack of integrity in their religious practice.
My grandma had a funny saying for this kind of speech. She would say, “That person doesn’t have any hair on their tongue.” Maybe that’s grandmother code for plain speaking.
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (Matthew 23:27, The Message)
While it’s important to name a prevailing lack of integrity when we experience it, our engagement can’t stop there. We must actually resist our engagement can’t stop there. We must actually resist it. And it is a combination of the ancient value of hospitality and a plain-spoken rejection of injustice that made all the difference for Jeanette Vizguerra.
You see, on February 14, 2017, Jeanette had an appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Officials had asked her to come in to review her stay of deportation. Instead, they were actually prepared to take her into custody and deny her stay. Thankfully, Jeanette I had prepared for this possibility. Her pastor and her lawyer attended the appointment. They told ICE that Jeanette was taking sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society of Denver. Thank goodness that congregation was ready with a meal or a bed, or even their courage.
In times like these, when people are saying one thing and doing another, that integrity and purpose is a beacon of possibility. 45 talks about deporting hardened criminals and making America great. Jeanette is the mom of three children born in the United States. She’s a labor organizer. Meanwhile, the greatness that 45 promises, he, at the same time, diverts to international and underpaid labor markets. More is possible, but it rests in turning away from making appearances more important than integrity.