By: Elizabeth Davis, rsm
In Matthew 25, when Jesus was asked how we could best walk in God’s way, his words were starkly clear, “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” (Matt 25:35-36).
|The Sculpture of Hands by Gerald Squires:|
The Gathering Place, St. John's, Newfoundland.
This is the first in a series of reflections during the Year of Consecrated Life giving our two congregations – Presentation Sisters and Sisters of Mercy – a moment of shared rejoicing in our blessed life expression as women religious. We will explore one of these markers along God’s way, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Who is the stranger? How do we welcome the stranger? How are we welcomed as the stranger?
The first stranger we are invited to welcome is God. God has chosen to come to us as a guest. Indeed one of the many names by which the early Rabbis called God was Shekinah, the divine presence among us. The angel told Joseph that the baby born of Mary would be Emmanuel, God-with-us (Matt 1:23). At the beginning of John’s Gospel (1:1, 14), we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Our God has expressed love for us by dwelling among us, by becoming one of us and by pouring the Spirit into our midst, “I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions and your old men will have dreams” (Acts 2:17-18, Joel 2:28-32). How rarely we take the time to contemplate the depth and richness and enormity of the Trinity present within and among us – Shekinah, Emmanuel, Spirit outpoured!
After his Resurrection, the transformed Jesus appeared to his disciples and friends as a stranger. Mary, weeping in the garden, thought him to be the gardener until he softly said her name, “Mary!” The disciples, sad and dispirited in their night fishing, did not recognize the stranger on the beach until he told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat (John 21:6). Mary and Cleopas, returning in despair to Emmaus from Jerusalem, walked and talked with a stranger, invited him to supper in their home, and did not recognize him until he broke bread with them. Only then could they exclaim in joy-filled delight, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
This same sacred code toward the stranger is embedded in the New Testament. Jesus frequently shared meals with strangers: tax collectors, rich men, a prostitute, and five thousand men, women and children. He met a Samaritan woman at a well and asked her for a drink (John 4:7). He defined “neighbour” by a Samaritan traveller’s response to a complete stranger who had been injured, “He put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Lk 10:34).
|Bruidean of Ireland - public houses mandated for the |
hospitality of the stranger, newcomer and traveller.
There is a beautiful French hymn, Laisserons-Nous À Notre Table, the verses of which are loosely translated: “Will we leave at our table a little space for the stranger – when they come, will they find some bread and friendship? Will we leave in our words a little time for the stranger – when they come, will they find an open heart to listen? Will we leave at our feast, a dance step for the stranger – when they come, will they find outstretched and inviting hands? Will we leave at our fountains a little water for the stranger – when they come, will they find free and thirsty people? Will we leave at our churches a little space for the stranger – when they come, will they find poor and hungry hearts?” Who are the strangers whom we encounter every day – in our own communities, in our places of ministry, when we go to church or to shopping malls, when we travel? Inclusion at its most daring will lead us to take risks, make us uncomfortable and cause us to challenge a social order which keeps the stranger, the other.
We, too, are often strangers ourselves. As we grow in awareness that we are members of a sacred community of all life, we are coming to realize that we are not owners or masters of Earth but strangers who are ungrateful guests, slowly destroying this life-sustaining place into which we have been invited. The words of the theologian Leonardo Boff call us to a very different response:
Human beings must feel that they are sons and daughters of the rainbow, those who translate this divine covenant with all the beings existing and living, with new relationships of kindness, compassion, cosmic solidarity, and deep reverence for the mystery that each one bears and reveals. Only then will there be integral liberation, of the human being and of Earth, and rather than the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth there will be common celebration of the redeemed and the freed, human beings in our own house, on our good, great, and bountiful Mother Earth.
The mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg, said, “How should one live? Live welcoming to all.” As we enter more deeply into this year 2015 and begin our celebrations of the Year of Religious Life, let us renew our promises to welcome the stranger and be radically inclusive. Let us remember that we are often the stranger being welcomed. Let us receive respectfully the welcome from Earth. Let us make our own the Irish greeting and blessing, “Céad Míle Fáilte!”
*The Gathering Place, located in St John's Newfoundland, is a community centre for vulnerable persons who are homeless or living with inadequate supports. It is a joint initiative of the Presentation Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland. It was established in 1994 to respond to the needs of those seeking food. In recent years programs and services have been added such as foot care, hair care, a clothing room, literacy programs, computer training and access to housing experts, nurses and social workers.