Followers of God have been sending people away for a long time.
“[Isaac] grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’” (Genesis 21:8-11, NRSV)
Casting out and sending away are the same thing. The reasons followers of God send people away vary. Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away out of jealously and fear – while she worshiped a God of abundance, she practiced the belief in scarcity. She believe that her son wouldn’t get his full inheritance. So she wanted Ishmael sent away.
“When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’” (Matthew 14:14-15, NRSV)
This is from the story of the feeding of the 5000+. Mark 6 tells of the the same experience and includes the following line stated by the disciples:
“When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’” (Mark 6:35-36, NRSV)
The disciples, the ones who spent time with Jesus, said “Send them away.” Maybe it was the enormity of the situation – thousands gathered, hungry, tired, hot. What were they to do after all? How could they afford to help so many – it would bankrupt them. So send them away. Never mind that the disciples followed the Son of God – a God of abundance. No, their care and concern for people was stunted by care and concern for their own situation. Fear took over. Self-preservation. Send them away…
“Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them;” (Matthew 19:13, NRSV)
Mark 10:13 (NRSV) also records this encounter: “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.”
Likewise, Luke 18:15 (NRSV) also records the same encounter: “People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.”
I imagine that when the disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them, they said words that implied that these people were not welcome – that they should go back home.
Send them away – they are a nuisance, inconvenient, annoying, a bother. Send them away – what value do they bring anyway? Can’t they see we are busy?
“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’” (Matthew 15:22-23, NRSV)
Send her away…a foreigner approaches Jesus. One who probably worships differently. What are we to do with this foreigner – she is not one of us. And she is a danger – she may also be possessed. Send her away.
Send them away, said the disciples. Send them away – we don’t like them. Send them away – they aren’t like us. Send them away – they are a nuisance. Send them away – they are a danger. Send them away – they will bankrupt us. Send them away – we refuse to see their humanity, their need, or their worth. Send them away – we have lost sight that those we send away are made in the image of God.
In response to each of these stories, God invites them in – God cares for Ishmael and promises him that he will father a great nation. Jesus feeds the crowd. Jesus welcomes the little children and blesses them. Jesus heals the woman’s daughter and recognizes her humanity when the disciples refuse to see.
Instead of sending them away, God is always looking to bring them in, to bless them, and to send us out into the world with a different message. A message of hope, love, transformation – a message of hospitality. The message of sending away is the proclamation of a different message. Sending out is different from sending away.
The followers of God have said “send them away” throughout history. But that doesn’t stop God.
Jesus keeps on saying “Welcome. There is plenty. I bless you.”