The Familiar Stranger

The Familiar Stranger

Excerpt from Luke 15:11-32

The father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

Martin B. Copenhaver

Two old friends meet in the park.  Upon seeing each other they don't say a word.  They sit on a park bench in silence for the longest time.  Then one finally breaks the silence by saying, "Oy."  The other responds, "Oy."  To which the first replies, "Well, enough about the children."  We may not know the details, but we know this:  family relationships are perhaps the most challenging of all.

A mother once told me about how she struggles to understand her son and wondered aloud how a single gene pool could produce two people who are so different from one another.  She said, "In some ways, it's like living with a stranger."  Her comment is a reminder that sometimes the strangers who need our hospitality do not come from a foreign land.  They may be as close as across the breakfast table.  And, of course, it is from the word "stranger" that we get the word "estranged."  The member of your family with whom you are estranged is someone who has become a stranger to you.

Is there someone in your life, perhaps very close, perhaps even a member of your own family, who is like a stranger to you?  Rather than feeling ashamed that a relationship that was meant to be close has come to that, rather than despairing that a member of one's own family feels like a stranger, perhaps it is better just to treat that person like a stranger.  And in our tradition we are called upon to receive the stranger, to create a safe place for the stranger.  In the practice of hospitality the stranger has a special role to play.  It is by making room for the stranger—perhaps a very familiar stranger—that we make room for God.

So let me ask again: is there someone in your life, perhaps even a member of your own family, who is like a stranger to you?  Well, go ahead, treat him, treat her, like a stranger.

Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, come, and give me the gift of hospitality to strangers, even familiar ones.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.
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