Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Serving the Stranger Among Us

In his Rule for monastic community, Benedict of Nursia wrote, "Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be recieved just as we would recieve Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Proper respect should be shown to everyone while a special welcome is reserved for those who are the household of our Christian faith and for pilgrims. As soon as the arrival of a guest is announced, the superior and members of the community should hurry to offer a welcome with warm-hearted courtesy. First of all, they should pray together so as to seal their encounter in  the peace of Christ. Prayer should come first and then the kiss of peace, so to evade any delusions which the devil may contrive."
 ~ Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the stories of hospitilality that I read on the travel blogs I frequent. My fellow bloggers who have backpacked across the terrains of distant shores are welcomed with open arms into the homes of strangers. Oftentimes, those who welcome them into their homes have very little material belongings themselves and it is truly a sacrifice to invite their foreign guests into their humble abodes, sharing the little resources they have. Yet, they do it with joy and see it as an honor, offering them the choice portions of food and even in some cases shelter for a night or two.

It seems that, at least here where I live in New England, if a stranger knocks on one's door for help or provisions, they are more likely to be met with a response of having the door remain closed and locked while the police are hastily called! There are some very valid reasons for people to distrust those that come knocking at their doors unannounced. For sure, there are criminals out there ready to take advantage of the gullible and unsuspecting, ready to spread their malice and darkness in an already dark world.

The fact is, most of us don't have backpackers from distant lands wandering through our neighborhoods. But we certainly see strangers among us that are in need of help, of charity, of hope. They are on our streets holding signs, huddled under bridges, lined up outside soup kitchens. Sometimes they are even our own neighbors, those we avoid getting to know, that have needs, that have broken homes and broken lives and so desperately need the light and love of Christ to shatter the chains that bind them to misery.

Perhaps we aren't always given the opportunity to be hospitable in the form of welcoming foreign travellers into our homes, but just as important, we are called to welcome the strangers that dwell among us into our hearts and respond towards them with love, compassion and hospitality. God's love is infinite and unconditional and as we conform more and more into the likeness of Jesus, our capacity of compassion increases, and the Spirit provides us with the confidence to break out of our comfort zones and live out the attributes of Christ. Compassion and love are not just abstract terms, but they are indeed verbs, action words to be lived out, not just believed in or discussed.

Whenever I think of serving others I am reminded of these verses in Matthew, which many of you will recognize. These are the very verses that Benedict of Nursia is referring to in the above passage and they relate to us very clearly who we serve when we serve strangers. :

Matthew 25:34-40

 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Whatever material blessings we have are not our own, but God's. Through Him and in Him we are given all things. Gifts are meant to be passed on. We are blessed so that we may bless others in return. When God allows us to bless those among us through the blessings He's given us it brings glory to Him and shines light into the hearts of others.

 Am I shining the light of hope and love that God has planted within my heart through the workings of His Spirit to others? Am I serving the strangers that I encounter in my life? Am I walking like Jesus did...with mindful compassion and empathy? Are you?  

I confess that these are questions and reflections I haven't had in my Christian walk until recently.  Many churches, including some of the ones I've gone to in the past, seem to hardly address this aspect of our faith, of the necessity to actively serve others.  I find this strange considering the emphasis that Scripture puts towards conforming ourselves into the image of Christ. Jesus was the purest example of a servant. Mark 10:45 describes Jesus' role this way: 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  

It took reading the gospels again, with a renewed Spirit, to have the eyes of my heart truly opened and inspired by these truths. I am not walking perfectly in them yet, but pray to live them out more and more as I grow in Christ. I think we all have precious gifts that we can share with others, the strangers among us and those familiar and intimate in our lives. May we all strive to do so.

Any thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you :)


  1. We were always told that a guest is like god.

  2. Jessica - Once again you've got me reflecting. Yes, I need to be more hospitable to people who have different ideas than mine - more open to new people. You got me thinking about the early Church and how the apostles were welcomed in to homes - even though the whole idea of Christianity was so new and there was a price to pay for their faith. We have become so complacent in our faith - because we are not challenged enough. Welcoming 'strangers' might be a good way to challenge ourselves. Thanks again, Jess.

  3. Jessica so true! When I grew up my Mom would always hand out bread or some leftover meal to people knocking on the door and asking for food. (In Africa you always find people asking for food). Now here in Argentina we have an alcoholic in our neigbourhood and he often asks for money. That I don´t give him but I always offer food...which he always refuses.

    Great post and it does make us reflect. God bless.

    Nelieta travel blog

  4. "...enkindle in them the fire of your love..."

    Did you notice that the Words of God for the week focuses on love... then love for our neighbors...

    Your posts have an effect on me as they bring me to concrete actions... So I read...reflect...I eat God's Word... and they pour me to give more of myself...

    So pray with me for this renewed enlightenment Jessica...

    WE rationalize too much... acts of charity is spontaneous because they have their source in our heart.. where God dwells.

    I remember one of Brian's comments...we go to other places when we have our poor here...
    and I agree...the poorest people in my place are my siblings, my nieces... the kids around me who desperately need guidance and protection... those who crave for attention... those who are not really financially lacking...but those who need warmth and affection... time...

    My heart is stirred...let me be God's heart today...

  5. 'with mindful compassion and empathy' , loved this line...we all need love and those who shower the less fortunate with love and care are great human beings.Wonderful and sensitive, thought provoking post.

  6. When I directed youth choir at St. Timothy’s it was nothing unusual to look out the back kitchen window during snack break and see one of the homeless wanderers rummaging through the dumpster for scraps of food thrown out after the Sunday morning prayer breakfast. But: the doors remained locked at all times.

    Some of these vagabonds pushed grocery carts (from the nearby Piggly Wiggly) around with all of their belongings stuffed inside. One winter evening near nightfall I noticed a homeless man named Kenny sitting under the breezeway. (Yeah, we knew most of these vagrants by name).

    He had plugged a crock pot into an outdoor electrical outlet. Also connected to the extension cord was a percolator. Kenny was apparently preparing his evening meal. I told the children to sit tight and open the door for me when I returned - since the door locked automatically from behind upon exit.

    As I approached Kenny I asked, “What’s for dinner?” He opened the crock pot lid to show me the tomato soup now simmering. Where, I wanted to know, had he gotten his “kitchen.” He told me that Goodwill had a surplus of crock pots and percolators, and they offered these to him for free. Here he was, luxuriating under the church breezeway with coffee and soup to warm and feed him on a chilly night.

    I asked if he’d like dessert to go with his coffee, which seemed to thrill his soul. Back in the kitchen I pulled a brand new bag of butter cookies from the pantry shelf and delivered it to Kenny, who was so grateful you’d have thought I’d just handed him a Sultan’s Golden Cake.

  7. Hi Jessica -

    When I traveled the world I learned how cold, heartless, and insensitive many Americans are in comparison to the rest of the world. In America, the more you have the less a person gives, shares, loves.

    I was thrilled when I landed in Germany to be welcomed in to strangers homes left and right. This happened to me in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Switzerland, England, Italy, Slovenija, and Croatia as well. I took off for Asia and the same warmth and hospitality was given to me by the Chinese, Thailanders, Pinays, and the people from Singapore as well.

    When my boys are older and on their own, I have certain locations around the world where I'll be off to establish home(s). Thank you. :)

  8. Hello Jessica -

    Super good post here. In my home growing up, anyone who was around the house sat down at the dinner table. There was never a question about that. If someone came to the door during meal time, another chair was scooted to the table as well. This was not the case in many other homes I witness. This is also not the case today in many homes in America. It seems like the more people have in America, the less they give.

    When I moved to Europe in 1991, my whole worldly view changed. Strangers I just met an hour earlier, welcomed me into their homes eating next to their children, playing with them, babysitting them while a parent ran to the store or what ever. I experienced this warmth in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, England, Italy, Croatia, and Slovenija. This love, warth, and generosity is uncommon in the states. It is a way of life for many people in other lands. I like other lands a lot. Thank you. :)