I’ve become a stranger once again. New city, new home, new roads, new job, new customs, new expectations—in the past few weeks, pretty much everything that has been “normal” and “ordinary” has become strange once more. Yes, I’ve still got my essential relationships, sense of calling, personal tendencies, and faith perspective, but it takes time to gather your general bearings when there is so much strange-ness about you, not to mention all of the tensions and barriers to community that can appear insurmountable upon first glance. But I’ve also come to recognize something beautiful in the midst of being strange…something too quickly forgotten once the new-ness wears off: there is a holy presence surrounding the stranger, and a holy summoning along the journey from stranger to friend.
This truth has been embedded in Scripture all along. Take Genesis 18, which comes right after God announces a miraculous intervention into the long-faced struggles of Abraham and Sarah, reminding them of God’s unilateral covenant with them. And then suddenly, as if it’s the first outcome of God’s covenantal love, they find three strangers in their midst. It happened when Abraham was taking a well-needed break in the cool shade of the oak trees at a place called “Mamre.” Abraham’s response to these intrusive strangers who’ve ruined an otherwise great time to nap? 1) He RUNS over to them. 2) He BOWS to them (a cultural sign of respect and humility). 3) He WELCOMES them to stay, OFFERING them fresh water and a good foot-washing, GIVING his favorite resting spot under those shady oak trees and some freshly baked bread (thanks to Sarah). These unexpected and mysterious strangers become welcomed guests and visible representatives of the LORD God, prompting unprecedented conversations about judgment and justice, and all started because Abraham took notice of them.
Or take that great resurrection story that happened on the road to Emmaus (a small village outside of Jerusalem), when Jesus appeared as a complete stranger to a few of the disciples [Luke 24]. Over the course of several miles on foot, the disciples talked with this stranger about all sorts of issues and current events, and then urged him to stay and eat with them (just like Abraham did with his three strangers). And it was only there around table, as the stranger broke bread in their midst, that they recognized him for who he truly was: Jesus, the risen Christ.
What do we make of this? Why does it matter? First, there is something about the presence of strangers that is a fundamental element to Christian circles. Our faith is not supposed to be lived out alone, or even in our own closely-knit communities. We are called to pay attention to the strangers in our midst and to practice hospitality in the most extravagant ways! Secondly, these strangers among us hold the potential to teach us something new about God—even to represent Jesus himself! We hear this in Matthew 25 too when Jesus says those strange and beautiful new words,
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:34-36, 40).
And finally, these stories tell us that the journey from stranger to friend happens most effectively around the common table. We must be intentional about making room, taking time, sharing life with new sisters and brothers in Christ.
Here recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of people’s generous hospitality, and I can say that I’ve also experienced the presence of Christ in the strangers who are becoming friends. May I not forget what it is like to be a stranger myself. (That goes for us all!)
Along the Journey…