Strangers and SojournersDan Doyle
ʺBrothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.ʺ (Ephesians 2: 19-22)
Strangers and sojourners. More often than not, that’s the way we encounter one another, or how we feel when we are thrust into new situations. It seems natural to us to feel this way. But is it? It is one thing to feel this way when you are new to an experience with others, but it is another thing altogether to treat all others as strangers, sojourners, or as mistrustful outsiders. We humans have a tendency to judge, often without cause or evidence, to close down, to identify with only those who are ʺlike us.ʺ We often let ourselves be moved by our fears rather than by love.
Reality dictates that we should not be naive in these things, but a Christian who is strong in his or her faith, who has a continuing personal relationship with Christ, who believes that the Spirit is always with him or her, is not ruled by these baser feelings, but ʺby every word that comes from the mouth of God.ʺ (Mt. 4:4) No Christian should feel a stranger or a sojourner in a strange land among other Christians. And even more importantly, no Christian should see, or treat any other human being, Christian or not, as anything less than a brother or a sister.
It is true that the world is often violent and dangerous. Because God gave all human beings absolute freedom of will, it has always been true that some will violate that freedom and cause inconceivable damage or do irreparable harm. But we human beings, with God’s grace, are also capable of learning to use that freedom with varying and growing levels of responsibility. While we must confront evil, and do what we can to stop it whenever and wherever it is found, we are not to sink to its level at any time. We are, rather, to confront evil with justice and to challenge it with mercy, even with forgiveness. We are to do nothing less than what Jesus did, in other words. Yes, that means that we will most likely have to suffer at times. But, if we unite our suffering with Christ’s, it will always be meaningful and it will have the effect of grace in it.
As this passage tells us, our faith unites us in and through the edifice of the Christian Church. We are members of a single household. Jesus Christ himself is the unbreakable cornerstone of this eternal edifice. It is Christ who supports the entire structure. Through him we are held together and grow into something greater than ourselves, a holy temple, a dwelling place for the Spirit. In this house, no one can be a stranger. All are welcome. This household is a place of hospitality and peace. And it is like a battery, a charged force for love in the battered, run-down world. What would the world be like without it? That is a thought too frightening to contemplate.
Let us never put a lock on the door of this edifice. Let our doors always be open. May we welcome all who wish to enter, and may we go out from it into the suffering and divided world no longer strangers and sojourners, but as brothers and sisters charged with God’s binding force of love and mercy. That is our calling as Church. That is the calling of the household of God.