Jeremiah (chapter 29) had no time for national borders: “Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” As far as he was concerned, we should blossom where we are planted, whether in our ancestral country or in exile. His message reminds me of the wonderful “Anthem” from the musical “Chess” by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. The song describes in emotional terms the feelings of the defecting chess master, Anatoly Sergievsky, towards his native Russia as he leaves: “Its only borders lie around my heart”. Listen to the whole stirring anthem, it is wonderful.
Jesus, too, had little time for nationalism. As Clemenceau said: “A patriot is someone who loves his country, a nationalist is someone who hates everyone else’s.” Jesus made clear that he had no time for either patriotism or nationalism. His loyalty was to His God-given mission, not to a country. He rejected the hatred of Samaritans that pervaded Jewish society at the time. It can’t have made Him popular with a whole swathe of the religious establishment. In Luke 17: 17-19 Jesus said to the healed leper who returned to give thanks: “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”
What can we learn from these scriptures? We have many “foreigners” in our Country, some from the EU, some from further afield. How do we set about welcoming them? How do we help them feel at home here? What is our church doing in this respect? In the present climate of vituperation and stirred-up fear, our Country has greater need than ever before of Christian love expressed towards those who were not born here, whatever their beliefs, whatever their eating habits, whatever their choice of dress. Hatred and suspicion are easy and cheap, loving and caring are a bit harder.
Going back a few generations, a very popular TV activity, we can wonder “Who am I?” When we realize that our ancestry may include illegal immigrants, work-house dwellers, slaves and slave-owners, we realize that we are a mongrel country. If we divide the country into two: on one side, people who take chances, who are willing to step outside their comfort zone; on the other, people who prefer the status quo: we see our Country as maybe Australians or Canadians see us. We are the ones who chose to stay at home rather than branch out; no wonder we are beginning to resent incomers.
We must fight nationalism at every turn, in the name of Jesus. Nationalism is no place for a Christian to stand. Read the Bible and find a different answer if you can.