I read a section of Isaiah 56 with some colleagues today.
It’s a favorite passage for a lot of people I know. From the Hebrews’ post-captivity period, the chapter includes phrases about not desecrating the Sabbath and drawing people to a “house of prayer for all nations.” Spaces like the National Cathedral use the latter in their marketing.
As my colleagues and I discussed this passage, we saw in it counsel to resist nationalism and exclusivism, and to lay aside the temptation to traffic in xenophobia or close our communities to those different from us.
One verse in that chapter especially stood out to me:
I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” —Isaiah 56:8
The Others are coming.
The Others, the Othered, those who represent in our time what eunuchs and foreigners once did in the biblical writers’ day—those people are coming, Isaiah writes. And “the Sovereign Lord” affirms it, too so we know it’s serious.
They aren’t just neighbors who already fit into our communities, the kinds of people we’d choose based on our criteria, the kinds of people we already routinely choose. These aren’t members of the just-like-us nation.
They’re different in a substantive way, and that’s why, when the Others come (there are always Others, and they always come), they so often find a thin welcome.
It can be easy to frame welcome as a gift we give to them. It’s much harder to recognize how exclusion harms an in-group by keeping it in the muck of self-sufficiency, separated from the people, experiences, and perspectives it needs to grow.
Treating Those People with dignity and respect does benefit them but I’m beginning to think that it might benefit us more.