Welcoming The Stranger
‘And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” –Luke 2:7
Why was there no room for Mary, Joseph and Jesus “in the inn?” What kinds of inns did they have in Bethlehem? We don’t get the answer to this question in this passage, but many questions arise. Was there really no room, or was it because of who these people were? This traveling family was unknown – and maybe seen as strangers.
It was once said that the Gospel “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” This short sentence from Luke causes discomfort. It is beyond imagination that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would not be welcome. It causes one to reflect on one’s attitude towards the “stranger in our midst” – whoever that may be for us – and to probe our response to those whom we perceive as different. Is not each of us seen as a stranger/different by someone?
One does not have to travel far to find the stranger. We are so alike and yet find ourselves so different. The discovery of DNA affirmed this scientifically; each person is profoundly unique, yet all come from the same source. Scientists call this “the fingerprints of God.” It is the mystery of our interconnectedness and uniqueness.
God is revealed in this mystery. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God. We find God in each other and the other, the stranger. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that the faithful can and must cultivate their own deepest truths — while finding God in the face of the stranger and the religious other.
Catechists are so important to the life of the Church. They help us connect faith and life. Catechists lead us to examine our assumptions, whether cultural or political, in the light of the person and teachings of Jesus. Just this past Sunday, Catholic churches in the United States were encouraged to celebrate Catechetical Sunday, especially by recognizing parish and school catechists. Teachers of religion in parish faith formation for every age, Catholic School teachers and RCIA catechists were recognized for responding to the call to form Missionary Disciples.
We are called to go out to all nations finding Jesus Christ and revealing Jesus Christ. There is no room for “stranger” language here! We are called to go to everyone. At the end of every Mass we are issued the command to Go forth in mission and the echo of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28;19-20:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching
them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am
with you always, until the end of the age.”
How different people look when we put these glasses of faith on and take seriously the command to be missionary disciples – as Pope Francis reminds us so often. In reaching out to the stranger, we meet Jesus. In welcoming the stranger, we find joy in the life we share as the Body of Christ.