I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I had wandered into the wrong place. Everything about me screamed, “he doesn’t belong here!” And it was confirmed when a waiter came to escort me out!
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.”
And “Outsider” is exactly what the Gentile believers in Christ were feeling from some of their Jewish counterparts in the early Church. 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.
Look at our lesson today in Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:1-7:
Brethren, 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.
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.” Jesus knows what it’s like to be the Stranger.
There’s something life-giving about being hospitable to strangers and outsiders, and there is something quite the opposite in being so afraid of different people that you hide in an ethnic ghetto!
The struggle, and it really is a struggle, to see this new and open community of the Church 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. There is no future for a “church” that isn’t hospitable to everyone, no matter where they are from.
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? It’s 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, To be sure that you are Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Dear Lord, we are never strangers to You. But all too often we are strangers to each other and even to ourselves! What a joy to know that the difficult path of knowing You, others, and ourselves is why You give us the wisdom of the Faith. Please help me today to not be a stranger to myself and others around me. And grant me the courage to journey inward with You as my Guide and Savior. Amen.