I believe that a stranger is just a friend whom I haven’t yet met. This idea is based on what Jesus says in the Gospel reading: “Anyone who is not against you is on your side.”
How many unknown friends has God given to you and me? They are surprise gifts: the strangers we sit next to in Mass, the neighbors we bump into at the grocery store, the co-workers who disagree with our Church’s teachings but are willing to help us do a difficult job, and the odd lady in the church parking lot who doesn’t fit our idea of friendship but who greets us with a smile.
These are unexpected partners in community, sent by God.
The disciples were blinded by pride. They thought they were special because they were Jesus’ closest buddies, his chosen ones. In the first part of this scripture, they want to know which among them is the greatest! It was that old attitude of exclusivity — if you’re not one of us, you’re not as important, you can’t get the same special treatment that I enjoy; you’re inferior.
Therefore, when someone who was not part of their inner circle took it upon himself to start his own ministry, even though he was honoring Jesus and obviously had faith in Jesus, the disciples not only disapproved, they tried to stop him. Jesus stood up for this man. He approved of this man. He valued this man.
Hooray for that guy in not allowing anyone to stop him and for having enough courage to keep on doing what he felt called to do, despite the opinions of those who were being trained in Christ’s private School of Apostleship!
I’m sure you’ve experienced it sometimes: You’ve felt excluded and rejected by those who should have been empowering you and affirming your efforts. So have I. So let’s use that hardship to become more empowering of others.
Do you know someone who’s been told they cannot or should not do something they want to do, even though it’s Godly? Is there anything you can do to empower them? Or what about those who have been ignored or rejected because “they’re not like us” or they don’t have the “right” educational credentials, or they’re too young or too old, or they belong to a different church or a different ministry in our own church?
Have you been to a parish mission or retreat that was poorly attended because it was preached by a lay person instead of a priest?
Have you belonged to a parish where staff or ministry leaders neglect to collaborate with other ministries? Not out of meanness but simply because it has never occurred to them to attempt collaborative projects? Has a parishioner come up with a new way of doing a ministry but his or her idea is not taken seriously because this person is not in a position of authority?
We all make assumptions based on limited understandings about the abilities of others. Assumptions can quickly become the sin of judgmentalism, or they can become opportunities for growth and for making changes. Today’s passage from Luke begs us to slow down and pay attention and clear out the cobwebs of exclusivity.
If you’ve been the victim of someone’s false assumptions, take courage, continue doing what God has gifted you to do and the mission he’s given you to do, forgive those who’ve put up obstacles, and remember that Jesus is standing up for you. He approves of you! He values you! And remember, your calling might be to empower someone else who’s been rejected and held back by the false assumptions of others.
© 2015 by Terry A. Modica