Welcoming Communities/ Who is my neighbour
by Peter Botross
Migrating to Australia in 1989, I was crowned the newest WOG at my school. The title that cheekily alluded to: “Welcome Overseas Guest,” didn’t represent a sense of welcome in my foreign environment. Observing the citizens of my new school life affirmed that men are from Mars, women are from Venus and I was from… Egypt. But, there was ONE place at school where I felt accepted. Barriers were dissolved on the soccer ground. Genuine welcome was extended because of “the love of the game”!
Wouldn’t you agree that we all long to belong? Paradoxically, in our pursuit for welcoming spaces, we unintentionally create groups where others feel unwelcomed. The pull for comfort provokes our connection to those who reverberate our values and add value to our lives. We connect with others for “the love of self;” to get the greatest return on our investment. Yet, there’s a better option.
The OT Scripture presents a profound narrative that illustrates a different motivation for creating welcoming environments (2 Samuel 9:1-13).
After the tragic death of Saul and Jonathan, David was crowned King over Israel. Ancient customs warranted a new monarch to exterminate the descendants of his predecessor, eliminating the risk of a revolt. It wasn’t surprising that David sought out Saul’s grandson: Mephibosheth. His servants would have anticipated that day of revenge, particularly given Saul’s hatred of David. The writing was on the wall for the 21year old Mephibosheth, who was lame in both feet.
Yet, in a remarkable scene of loving kindness, David encountered Mephibosheth and offered him unmatched welcome. He extended protection, restored his family’s fortunes and invited him to eat regularly at the King’s table. Mephibosheth was adopted and treated the same as David’s children.
Why did David extend such incomprehensible welcome to an unsuspecting lame man?
For “the love of Jonathan”!
Jonathan, the heir apparent to the throne, welcomed David and rescued him from Saul’s plot to kill him. Despite their differences in age and social status, Jonathan risked his life for David. They established a covenant of care for each other and their families. Consequently, David expressed Jonathan’s welcome to his descendants.
Similarly, the Church is invited to extend a gracious welcome to others “for the love of Jesus,” who is the New Testament Jonathan. This is the divinely empowered motivation that demolishes humanly erected barriers. We welcome others because God welcomes them THROUGH us. He expresses His loving kindness, genuine acceptance and practical care in the world through us.
It was for the “love of the game” that a WOG boy was welcomed into the team. It was for the “love of Jonathan” that a LAME man was welcomed into a royal family. It’s for the “love of Jesus” that NEIGHBOURS are welcomed into the Church.
Questions for Reflection:
How would you describe your church’s welcoming culture?
Does everyone in your church community feel equally welcome?
BUV, Church Health Consultant