I was a stranger and you welcomed me. ~ Matthew 25:35
Be wide in our embrace. ~ Ronald Rolheiser
Sometimes I return to a story and see it from a different angle or perspective. One such event occurred several years ago on Christmas Eve in a blizzard. After our candlelight service where we remembered and celebrated the birth of Jesus, Shar called me at our home and said, “Craig, there’s a stranger in our house.” “Are you ok?” I asked. “Yes. I’m drying his clothes and I gave him some soup to eat.”
“O.K., so what do you want me to do?” “I don’t know. I think he might be Jesus.” “Why’s that?” “You know that passage. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was naked and you gave me some clothes. I was the stranger and you welcomed me.” “Yeah, I know it.” “Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Maybe he’s Christ.” “Maybe,” I said. I looked at our dining room table decorated with red and green ribbons, candles were lit, a big steamy pot of soup was on the table. Our kids were looking at me. I was tired, the snow was coming down, and I just wanted to rest. “Has this stranger been drinking?” I asked.
“Yeah, quite a bit.” “O.K., I’ll be right over, and I’ll get him a room.” It was CHRISTmas Eve after all.
“The supreme religious challenge,” says Rabbi Johnathan Sacks, “is to see God’s image in the one who is not in our image.” Can we see God’s image or spirit in the person who might look differently, act differently, think differently, or speak differently than us? In today’s world our survival depends on accepting otherness, strangers, and differences. Ron Rolheiser says, “We can no longer live just among our own (whatever that is). What is strange to us will soon enough be part of our neighborhood, our home, our church, and our perspective on things.” God is other and implores us to see the holy or Christ in all people.
Can we see Christ in an intoxicated, homeless person lost in a blizzard on Christmas Eve? Can we see Christ walking the halls of Congress as well as sleeping in the park in Cortez? Can we see Christ in the elder residents of a long-term care facility and in the forgotten poor living in make-shift homes? George Fox says, “Walk joyfully on the earth and respond to that of God in every human being.”
Jesus’ teachings and life are not limited to people who look, act, or think like him. He sees, uplifts, and values says Taylor the Roman centurions, Samaritan lepers, Syro-Phoenician women, hostile Judeans, his Galilean disciples, slaves and rulers, twelve-year old girls and powerful men, people who can be useful to him and people who cannot. His circle of compassion widens and widens until no one is left outside of it. How big is our circle? Who is inside it and who is left standing outside?
According to Rabbi Sacks, there are thirty-six places in the Hebrew Bible that command us to love the stranger and one command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We love the stranger because we know what it is to be a stranger ourselves and we love the stranger because they show us God.
Abraham and Sarah encounter God when they welcome three strangers into their tent. Jacob encounters God when he wrestles with a stranger all night. Father Ron Rolheiser writes, “Revelations from God come mostly through the stranger, the foreigner, the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and the different.” God is other. I admit, while driving through a blizzard on Christmas Eve to give an intoxicated guy a room, an encounter with the living Christ was not on my mind. What has been our experiences with strangers? The unexpected?
“God uses the stranger to shake us from our conventional points of views, to remove the scales of worldly assumption form our eyes,” says Parker Palmer. Jesus says, “I was homeless, and you gave me a room. I was shivering and you gave me clothes. I was sick and you stopped to visit. I was in prison, and you came to me,” (Matthew 25:35-37 The Message). Do we see our Creator in the stranger? Do we see Christ’s love and goodness in those who are different from us? Would we recognize Jesus if he walked into our church? What would He look like?
I picked up the stranger at Shar’s house. He laughed and carried on all the way to the motel. I thought, “I’m glad someone is enjoying Christmas Eve.” He asked me to say a prayer for him and I did. He laughed some more; I got more irritated. The blizzard continued.
Three months later I was checking people into the Bridge Shelter. A short, rumpled man kept staring at me. “You don’t remember me do you.” “No. Should I know you.” “I’m Merry Boy. You got a room for me on Christmas Eve. Thank you.” I could not believe he remembered me, and I did not recognize him.
Jesus said, “I was homeless, and you gave me a room,” (see Matthew 25:35 The Message). Are we open to seeing Christ in the stranger?
May we welcome the stranger.
May our embrace be wide.
Blessings and peace,