It is not always easy to recognize Christ in others, especially if we find them difficult or different. And in the Church, even in a monastic community, it is natural for us to gravitate to a smaller group of like-minded people. Jesus threatens the whole matter of community in his first sermon in Nazareth, and it almost gets him killed. He reminds his own people that God’s sense of community is bigger than theirs. He offends them by telling not one but two stories about how God had passed over them in order to minister to strangers- first, the widow from the wrong side of the tracks in Zarephath, and then Naaman the Syrian, who was an officer in the army of Israel’s enemies (Luke 4.21-30.)
Even now the “company of strangers” is a huge issue, as we Americans bitterly debate the question of immigration. And it is a huge issue that threatens to crumble the European Union, as refugees from elsewhere desperately seek to cross national borders. It is a huge issue among people of different faiths, and even among Christians, when controversy surrounds questions such as: “Who’s in? Who’s out? Who belongs? Who’s a misfit, failure or threat?”
It is easy to see the other as stranger, as soon as we do not agree with them, or love different things, or define ourselves by different choices. But it is not a very big step to then begin regarding the stranger as enemy. If we are honest, we are at least a little disturbed or offended when we realize that God actually loves the people we don’t like, that they belong to him just as surely as we do.
Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarephath are not simply distant figures that triggered a violent reaction that day in the synagogue, when Jesus was addressing his own people; they have other names in our lives today. The company of strangers is no less uncomfortable or offensive to us. Jesus presents himself in the Gospel as one who cares for the stranger, and he continues to come to us as stranger, reminding us that while he is with us he does not belong to us, but rather we belong to him.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.