My friend (and master of the sonnet form), Malcolm Guite, published the collection in which this poem appears in 2012. Inhospitality to strangers is nothing new. It may help to remember that “xenos,” the Greek word from which English derives “xenophobia,” and “hospes,” the Latin word from which it derives “hospitality,””hospital, and “hospitable,” can mean, in their respective languages, “stranger,””guest,” and “host.” They derive, in turn, from the Indo-European root, “ghos-ti,” “someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality.” Whether the United States welcomes strangers or not is a matter of policy that has varied wildly over its history. Jews and Christians (and Muslims, though I speak of Islam with far less knowledge) have a religious duty to welcome the stranger. I am frequently reminded by others that “religious”” reasoning has no place in “secular” decision-making. Given the currently accepted constructs of “the religious” and “the secular,” that’s likely to be true. Reinhold Niebuhr, Barack Obama’s “favorite philosopher” and “favorite theologian,” came to see society as so tainted with sin that the nation-state could not and should not live by Christian ethics. Again, that may very well be true. Christians, however, must reckon with Matthew 5 through 7 and Matthew 25:31-46. “Xenophobia,” it turns out, is not so much fear of the stranger as it is fear of being the host. I trust we shall be judged accordingly.
Christ the King
Mathew 25: 31-46
Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.