Chrysostom on strangers – housing strangers in South Africa
February 6, 2008
I found this quote from Chrysostom in a chapter by Amy Oden in Ancient and Postmodern Christianity, and it kind of struck me. Seems to be linking up with the passage in Matthew 25. Chrysostom is a well known church father, well-known for his “golden mouth”, the fact that he was an amazing preacher, less well known is the fact that he also preached a lot on social and economic justice, made a lot of rich people mad in the process.
Do you want to put us to shame? Then do this. Surpass us in generosity. Have a room, to which Christ may come. Say, “This is Christ’s space. This building is set apart for Him.” Even if it is just a basement and tiny. He won’t refuse it. Christ goes about “naked and a stranger.” It is only a shelter He wants…. Abraham received the strangers in the place where he himself lived. His wife stood in the place of a servant, the guest in the place of masters. He didn’t know that he was receiving Christ, didn’t know that he was receiving Angels. Had he known it, he would have lavished his whole substance. But we, who know that we receive Christ, don’t show even so much enthusiasm as he did who thought that he was receiving humans. “But many of them are imposters and ungrateful,” you would say. And for this the greater your reward when you receive for the sake of Christ’s name. For if you know indeed that they are imposters, don’t receive them into your house. But if you don’t know this, why do you accuse them lightly? “Therefore I tell them to go to the receiving house.” But what kind of excuse is there for us, when we do not even receive those whom we know, but shut our doors against all? Let our house be Christ’s general receiving place. Let us demand of them as a reward, not money, but that they make our house the receiving place for Christ. Let us run about everywhere, let us drag them in, let us seize our prize. Greater are the benefits we receive then what we confer. He does not require you to kill a calf, but only you give bread to the hungry, raiment to the naked, shelter to the stranger.
It’s amazing how the same issues is being addressed 1700 years later. How many of us won’t say that we’d be willing to house the stranger, but we don’t know who is imposters, who is only using our generosity, so we’d rather not go down that road. Crime and violence is further complicating things.
Caring for the stranger has been central throughout the Bible, and has been talked about ever since in church, however the practice seems to be difficult (also illustrated by this quote). I keep on struggling with what this would look like in practice in South Africa…