‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Mt 25:35-40)
The New York Times has written about my little country, Sweden, and how we treat poor immigrants from Romania. It’s not a happy read:
From media reports, Expo has counted 77 attacks against beggars in the last 18 months, though charities assume such crime is underreported.
The attacks include one in Malmo, where tents in a Roma camp were set on fire; another in Boras, where a beggar was run over by a moped; and one in Skara, where at least one migrant was hit by a pellet from an air rifle.
I’m very involved in this situation; as I have shared previously I am almost daily helping poor Romanian immigrants. I have started a small organization with some friends to support them and help them to get housing and an income, and I personally know about 100 people in this situation. The hatred and racism that NY Times is reporting about is something I witness all the time, and I’ve had countless discussions with people who are convinced that these extremely poor beggars are rich, criminal liars who should be deported.
The stories that are being spread around are tragically very similar to how German Nazi-supporters talked about beggars and Romas in in the 1930’s and -40’s. They try to portray these extremely poor people as privileged and wealthy, and argue that what’s need to be done is to ban begging – even though for many of these unemployed, discriminated people that’s their only income. Instead of fighting poverty, they want to fight the poor. And the rhetoric stirs violence: it’s not a coincidence that it is beggars and not mailmen or clowns that suddenly are subject to an increase of violence when the media is spreading so much hostility towards beggars.
What’s really amazing is that in total, these begging Eastern Europeans aren’t more than 4,000 in Sweden. That’s about 0.05 % of the almost 10 million people residing in this country. And yet these 4,000 are being subject to so much debate, hatred and violence. They’re not a “burden to society” by any means – they’re already excluded from the welfare system here and literally just get people’s spare change. But they’re visible, and that’s what drives people nuts. Just like the early Christians, the fact that they are going to the public places spreading their message stirs lots of fame but also persecution.
Almost all Eastern Europeans who are begging on the streets of Sweden are Christians. Most of them are Pentecostals. And so, Matthew 25:35-40 definitely applies to them. We should love them, welcome them, treat them as we would like to be treated, give them food and clothing and bless them in any way possible. Thankfully, many churches and Christian individuals have been standing in the front when it comes to defending their rights and supporting them practically. During last winter, many church buildings opened for them to sleep in.
There are similar Christian movements all around the world, such as the Love Makes a Way campaign in Australia and the Evangelical Immigration Table in the US. I’m often imagining that supporting immigration would be much easier in such countries where the build of the majority population immigrated less than 300 years ago, but apparently these campaigns have received opposition even from fellow Christians. Jesus has a word for them too:
‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Mt 25:41-45)