EVERY day I walk down Broad Street, passing the cross laid out in black cobbles in the middle of the western end of the street.
Many Oxford people will know this marks the place – more or less – where three Church of England bishops were burnt at the stake.
Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed there in 1555, and Thomas Cranmer in the following year.
On passing, one can often hear a tour guide telling some macabre tale of the deaths.
On the side of Oxford’s Town Hall is another monument, a stone plaque commemorating the important, mediaeval Jewish quarter around the northern limit of St Aldate’s.
This old, important community made Oxford what is today. Yet in 1215 the Jews of Oxford were forced each to wear a yellow star, much like those used throughout German-occupied Europe in the 1940s.
In 1244, Oxford students burned down a number of Jewish houses in this area, and, in 1268, the whole Jewish population of Oxford was imprisoned under a pretence.
Pogroms and persecutions drove most of the town’s Jews out, so that when Jews were expelled from England in 1291, there were very few left to leave.
As we go around our city, there are these marks of persecutions.
Those who persecuted and those who were persecuted were much like we are; persecuted or persecuting not just for the notions of what some firmly believed, but the indelible nature of who they were.
It is often the way that a larger and more powerful group in society acts out of irrational fear of a smaller and less powerful group.
Persecution is in the news.
The Christians of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, ancient communities and substantial minorities in each country, are being persecuted.
Churches and people have been attacked. Two bishops of Aleppo have been kidnapped, as have a group of nuns from Ma‘loula.
These persecutions are happening in environments of fear, where the vast majority of the population are suffering terribly from civil war, chaos and instability.
Yet there is a tender, lingering hope that different communities in these countries will once again live in peace with each other, as once they did.
In this country, some Christians like to think that they are persecuted, as the values they espouse do not have the same traction in wider society they once did.
Some far-right groups and right-wing politicians have smuggled Christian symbolism and vocabulary into rather un-Christian messages.
It is certainly odd, as a Christian, to hear other Christians talk about being persecuted because their faith does not give them special rights over others, particularly over Muslims, LGBTQ people and, as in the past, Jews.
Fear of the strange and the stranger is perhaps deep-rooted in our human instinct, making persecutions a problem everywhere. Its big name is ‘xenophobia’, which is not just limited to ethnic hatreds.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to catch us out of our fear – the story of a hated outsider who helped another when others passed by.
I wonder who our Good Samaritan might be; the stereotype in our mind that makes us feel uncomfortable around others.
Imagine that person helping us just when we need it. Turn that around, and we have ‘philoxenia’ – the love of the stranger.