Clearly, Jesus and modern people have two vastly different notions of the stranger. This paragraph and the two that follow discuss “The plea of the stranger.”
84. Finally, I would note that in another passage of the Gospel Jesus says: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). Jesus could speak those words because he had an open heart, sensitive to the difficulties of others. Saint Paul urges us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). When our hearts do this, they are capable of identifying with others without worrying about where they were born or come from. In the process, we come to experience others as our “own flesh” (Is 58:7).
And thus we have an insight into the widening view of who is embraced by God. Jesus affirms those who would welcome a person unknown to them, and Church tradition embraces this as one way of encountering his presence. Let’s keep in mind this is as explicit as John 6.
Whether or not the pharisee Paul accepted the later prophetic tradition and the vision of human unity under God in some ideal and eventual future, he does seem to have adopted it in his mission as an apostle. This suggests two things. First, that the heirs of the apostles–the bishops–are particularly called to this model. And more importantly, we lay believers must wrestle with it as well. It’s not just about making ourselves more open to Christ and his presence, but also in the living acts of disciples. By embracing strangers, it becomes remarkable–able to be remarked about or commented on by outside observers. Not, “See how those Christians love one another,” but “See how they love the ones not even of their own tribe.”
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