Terry and I were in a rental car in Jordan. We’d driven from Amman to the site where Moses stood to view the Promised Land. Narrow roads wound through wilderness with occasional habitation: some Bedouin tents, boys with a few sheep or goats walking behind them, a small town with a roadside stall where aromatic coffee steamed in copper pots.
We were lost. The road signs were all in Arabic, and no one spoke English. The sun was setting in an orange sky and it would soon be dark. How would we get back to Amman?
Our situation seemed hopeless.
Out of the twilight, appeared a small building, the size of a phone booth, at the edge of the road. In it stood a policeman. We stopped. He came over to the car, and thanks be to God,
he spoke some English. He told us we were 48 miles from Amman and would never get there on our own. “Move over,” he said to Terry.
The journey on those winding roads took nearly an hour. We chatted with the man but under that talk we did wonder if we were indeed going to Amman, and if so, how much would he charge us for his service.
In the soft darkness, he pulled up in front of our street address, got out of the car and wished us a happy time in Jordan. We tried to offer him money but he refused it.
Terry asked, “How will you get back?”
He said he’d go to the Police Station and get someone to drive him. Then he disappeared into the darkness.
That was our introduction to the Muslim principle of hospitality to the stranger.
Since that day, there has been increased awareness of this principle in all the Abrahamic religions, including our own, and the realization that hospitality to the stranger is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. If we journey with him through the gospels, we see how “hospitality to the stranger” extended Jesus’ original concern for the lost tribes of Israel, and made his ministry global.
Think of some of the “strangers” Jesus befriended: tax collectors, lepers, people despised by society, various Samaritans including a woman in whom he first confided that he was the Messiah, a Roman soldier, the Syro-Phoenician woman in the pagan territories. It seems that the stranger was always bringing Jesus’ ministry to a larger place.
Jesus lived and preached love for the stranger, and that brings me to the questions: who are the
strangers in my life? Who are the people I judge? From whom do I withhold forgiveness?
Every year these questions are a part of Lenten stocktaking, and every year I have to do something about a lack of hospitality.
We see Jesus’ love of the stranger as compassion, and that is true; but I think he was also at that level of consciousness where he saw God manifest in everyone and everything, regardless of labels.
We pray that Jesus will help us to the spaciousness of that unitive vision.
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