“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
– Hebrews 13:2
In today’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew chapter 12, we hear about some religious leaders who came to Jesus and requested to show a sign that would prove that He is indeed the Messiah mentioned in biblical prophecies. In his response, Jesus explained that the miracle they searched for could already be found in the Bible and highlighted two particular Biblical individuals and events – the Prophet Jonah and the Queen of Sheba. We often overlook the delicate contrast and connection present between these two individuals and how God was revealed in their stories. Prophet Jonah was sent to strangers in Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba was a stranger herself that visited king Solomon in Jerusalem. In both instances, something unexpected and extraordinary took place when the glory and power of God were revealed through an encounter with a stranger.
There is a story about a small east coast town, struggling with financial difficulties. The town residents decided to call a town hall meeting to discuss their challenges and find solutions. Some twenty-thirty people showed up for the meeting and among them was a stranger that nobody seemed to know. Most assumed he must have been a curious tourist visiting the town. The stranger started to make comments and offer advice. But perhaps because he was interrupted several times and the feedback he offered was overlooked and ignored, the stranger ended up being silent for the rest of the meeting and left early. Later, the small-town residents were surprised and shocked to learn that the mysterious stranger was, in fact, John D. Rockefeller, who happened to pass by their town on his yacht and, after learning about the meeting, decided to attend it and try to help their community. This story is a powerful reminder about the role and impact of strangers in our lives and how God often touches and enters our lives through seemingly random encounters with strangers.
Without quite realizing it, our attitudes towards strangers are heavily influenced by views that, though common and accepted in our society, often directly contradict the Christian faith. We have been taught that the stranger can be pretty dangerous, has nothing to teach us what we don’t already know and has nothing to offer since they are suspicious and probably motivated by a hidden agenda or personal gain.
The Christian perspective of the stranger is not based on fear, suspicion and mistrust, but instead, on compassion, love and charity. This is seen most clearly in the life of our Lord, whose ministry was almost entirely focused on the stranger. He went from town to town and from village to village preaching, teaching and healing strangers. Countless Old and New Testament stories, such as Abraham and Sarah showing hospitality to strangers and the wounded Jewish man being saved by the Good Samaritan, echo the exact same message, teaching and showing us that a seemingly random encounter with a stranger can possibly be a source of blessing and healing, a turning point for our or their lives and most importantly a precious possibility to encounter our Lord and Savior himself, to whom glory and honor forever, amen.