“I’m sorry, but you don’t belong here.” With that the usher informed me and my family that we were in the wrong spot. This area was reserved for VIP’s, not for the regular folks!
Ouch! It reminds me of an old saying my grandmother taught me: “Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart.” Oh, is that different than how you learned it?
There is nothing quite as cutting to anyone than to be made to feel unwelcome or unwanted. The stigma of being the “outsider” is a heavy burden to bear. This is especially true when all those “insiders” have their own jargon, their secret handshakes, and know all the “old” jokes that you simply don’t understand.
Now imagine being made to feel that way in a place where the Founder commanded His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) And St. Paul declares “the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:10-11)
“Outsider” is exactly what the Gentile believers in Christ were feeling from their Jewish counterparts in the early Church. So much so that there was a short rift between St. Paul and St. Peter over the issue. But Paul stood up for the Gentiles that the Lord had called him to reach with the Gospel and to see the Gentiles become just as much a part of the Church as the Jews who believed in Christ.
St. Paul writes to the Gentiles and says: “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles-assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power.” Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:1-7
What good news it is to hear “you are no longer strangers!” God loves the “outsider” because He understands how it feels to be an “outsider.” Remember, it was said of Jesus “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own,[c] and His own[d] did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” John 1:10-12
There is something special about learning how to welcome the stranger and the “outsider” into our communities. There is something powerful about the ability to see past temporary differences and the fear of the “stranger” that plugs into the grace of God to heal us and make us the people we were created to be.
Conversely, the inability to make a home for the “outsider” among us is a deep affront to the spirit of the Message of Jesus, which is meant for the whole world.
The struggle, and it really is a struggle, to see this new and open community embrace all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds runs counter to the self centered habits of “protecting” the tribe or allowing the tribe to be “infiltrated” by “outsiders.”
But everyone who has been gripped by this fear and this xenophobia have always been on the dying end of their existence. In attempting to “protect” their tribe, they’ve only hastened its disappearance and irrelevancy.
Today, how will you treat the “stranger” and “outsider” among you? Looking at your community, is it a safe place for “strangers” to visit? Can an “outsider” find a home among you? Its really time to do a spiritual inventory of your own heart and of your community to see if the Message of Jesus has so transformed you as to be free enough to embrace the rejected and marginalized in our society.
Today, let us practice the Christian hospitality of love and embrace and let us forever reject any notion that reduces our Cosmic Lord, the Uncreated God, to a mere tribal deity. Surely the Kingdom of God is for everyone. If it isn’t then it isn’t God’s kingdom, but a mere temporary “club” whose demise is already planted deeply in its closed heart. Let it be said of Christians that we believe the Scriptures and the Fathers: We welcome everyone into our family!