When I was in seminary, one of the campus music groups was an a cappella group called The Sacramental Whiners. One of their favorite songs began like this:Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you? Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew?
Today, the church remembers the Righteous Gentiles, the men and women who, during the Second World War, acted to harbor and protect Jews whose lives were endangered by the Hitler’s forces and by the forces of indifference and fear. More than 23,000 Gentiles are honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for their courageous acts of mercy: harboring Jews in their own homes, illegally obtaining passports and travel credentials so that they could escape, or simply refusing to name the Jews in their communities when asked at gunpoint.
Most of us revere the memories of those who resisted. We would like to believe that, if we were similarly tested, we might find within ourselves at least a fraction of their courage. And yet, the experience of refugees in our time suggests that such actions are more complex than the idealized image that we paint of them.
Refugees are often poor and hungry. If they are fleeing in haste, they may not be clean. They might smell. They might not speak our language or understand our culture. We like the idea of embracing those in need, but when they come to our doors or to the borders of our countries, our first reaction is often one of fear and self-defense, not of compassion.
I think it is good that we are tested in this way. It shows us the full measure of courageous compassion. The Righteous Gentiles did not harbor Jews because it was safe, or cheap, or convenient, or easy. In a time of scarcity, they fed the refugees with food that was taken from their own mouths and the mouths of their children. They risked arrest and imprisonment. They devised elaborate patterns of concealment. But they showed the full measure of the love of God for God’s people.
Not all of us are in a position to harbor a refugee, but each one of knows people who need shelter. Sometimes it’s an actual place to live; for others, it might be a safe person to talk to at a time of personal struggle, a shoulder to cry on, a word of wisdom or gentleness or hope. Look around you. Whom can you harbor today?