Donald Trump has inflamed our smoldering suspicions of the outsider. This distrust makes millions vulnerable to right wing demagogues who promise walls of protection in exchange for power. Thank God, our country tolerates—even welcomes—pushback. In the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein reported that students at Liberty University in Virginia, founded by Reverend Jerry Falwell, started a petition criticizing the University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for endorsing a candidate who is “actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.” Goodstein points out that many evangelicals are troubled by Trump's dismissal of the Christian imperative to care for immigrants and refugees—and a close reading of Ruth, Luke, John and Mark show the importance of caring for outsiders, and how in turn they energize us.
Despite the deep divide between Israelis and the Palestinians, or between Christians and Muslims, the Book of Ruth puts love before religious traditions, customs, and even gods. Ruth, a Moabite, an outsider from a rival tribe of the Hebrews, has a Hebrew husband who dies but nonetheless she puts love of her also-grieving mother-in-law, Naomi, above her own Moabite faith and customs, pledging to Naomi “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). There is no indication that she is rejecting inferior Moabite gods; in fact, her sister Orpah, married to another of Naomi’s sons who dies, accepts Naomi’s permission to return to her own people, no one making any reference of one culture being superior to the other. Ruth is an immigrant among the Hebrews, enters her mother-in-law’s tribe, receives acceptance for all her humble efforts, and has a baby with the Israelite Boaz (the baby Obed who starts the lineage of David), a baby Ruth gives her mother-in-law to nurse. Ruth the outsider becomes the group’s loving core.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also challenges the cliché that only those from the inside are trustworthy. When a lawyer asks how to inherit eternal life, Jesus forces the lawyer to answer his own question: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). Jesus equates love of God with love of neighbor; in fact, sensing this inference, the lawyer quickly asks “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29). Jesus answers with a parable about a traveler who is beaten and left for dead. Members of his group, indeed religious leaders, a priest and a Levite (another temple functionary) ignore the traveler but a Samaritan (a believer in an off-brand Judaism left out of the Second Temple) has compassion for the traveler, binds his wounds, and puts him up in an inn. Jesus says this Samaritan defines a neighbor, an outsider who cares regardless of affiliation. It is this “neighbor” who inherits eternal life, not necessarily the one who choirs with kindred angels.
The Gospel of John, however, often threatens Luke’s positive view of the outsider, often reinforcing his importance as the ultimate inside commander, the Son of God, threatening those who do not show allegiance: “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18). This has a totalitarian ring to it, leaving scant space for the acceptance of outsiders. However, rather than fear the outsider, the Gospel of Mark cautions that treachery and heartbreak can just as likely come from insiders. Mark’s Jesus is the ultimate outsider; even his inner circle—the disciples—is vulnerable to betraying him. Early in the gospel, Jesus is disappointed that his parable of the seed mystifies his disciples: “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mk 4:13) They never do.
Mark’s Jesus accepts the disciples but he knows the rigors of his outsider teachings through parables frustrate them (John’s gospel throws the parables out), and Mark predicts that they will grow weak when authority and tradition are threatened by his teachings. When he announces one of them will betray him, they all display the guilt manifest in Judas’ literal betrayal of turning Jesus over to the Romans, asking “one after another, ‘Is it I?’” (Mk14:19) The writer of John is incredulous that insiders would betray Jesus, removing any insider guilt by indicating it is only Judas, possessed by the devil, who will betray Jesus. Unlike John, the writer of Mark fears betrayal more from inside rather than outside. He understands the fragility of intimacy and the dangers it can breed. We need to remember this too.