Blind Willie Johnson Sunday 3: Everybody ought to treat a stranger right

Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, long ways from home
Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, a long way from home

One of Johnson’s songs which has a surprisingly contemporary message is “Everybody ought to treat a stranger right.”

Blind Willie Johnson’s version can be heard here

A surprisingly simple, but powerful version, blending lyrics from different songs can be heard here

A more politicised version can be heard here

Johnson starts off in the simple but punchy style of Old Testament prophets:

Careful o’ how you treat a stranger, by belying you’ll turn him away
Well, be feared that you may obtain it, when you drive him from your gate

As James 3 reminds us of the power of words, so Johnson alerts us to the danger of the language we use with regards to strangers, particularly apt for these days of trumpian rhetoric when we hear of “swarms of immigrants”

Well, be mindful if you’re speaking, be careful how you go along
You must always treat a stranger right, don’t insult him in your home

Basic human solidarity encourages generosity,

Well, all of us down here are strangers, none of us have no home
Don’t never hurt, oh your brother, and cause him to pull his own

as does the fact that

Christ came down as a stranger, He didn’t have no home

We can forgive Johnson the sentimentality of oxen keeping the baby Jesus warm (they didn’t the animals would have been taken out…) or for believing that the Wise Men saw Jesus when he was one day old (they didn’t, they came to see Jesus as a toddler) because he is on the right track in discerning an attitude of compassion and generosity to strangers throughout Scripture. This is not to say that the Bible prescribes a particular immigration policy, for it doesn’t, but Scripture instructs us on what our attitude to those who are different, vulnerable and in need should be.

While much of the West has debated immigration, Latin American countries have had to respond to an influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Venezuela. Peru has been particularly generous, allowing Venezuelans temporary residence and right to work, while there has been much solidarity from Peruvians towards the new arrivals. It is uncertain how long this relative open approach will be sustainable, especially as the access that poor Peruvians have to health and educational services is already precarious as it is, and one wonders how long the system can sustain the daily arrival of hundreds. Nonetheless, as difficult political and economic issues are addressed, one can but pray that it is done in an attitude that affirms

Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, long ways from home
Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, a long way from home