"And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?"
I wonder about the tone of these questions.
Each of these, it feels like, can be a different way to respond to the image and presence of God in a stranger we encounter, like the one described in the text, who might be in need of clothes, water, a friend.
Let’s be real. A lonely, thirsty, naked stranger can be kind of intimidating.
So then, maybe we’re disbelieving. Like, nah, you weren’t in there, Jesus. We did meet some folks along the road of life, helped them out, but that wasn’t you. These were some messed up folks. That isn’t what you’re like, Jesus. Maybe you were with these folks in some ethereal spiritual way, but it’s not like the person was you. That just isn’t possible. No.
Or maybe we’re baffled. Like, we are being told that the human beings we helped along the way were bearers of God’s image. Or even more, that Jesus is in there. But it can feel disorienting that God dwells in people who might be in serious need of a shower, or who scream profanities to no one in particular, or are in prison, or are super irritating, or just seem needy. We are hearing Jesus say he’s there. We may occasionally catch a glimpse. But it’s kind of confusing. How does it happen, exactly, that Jesus could end up in such a state? Why were these folks, as Jesus, not treated with the tenderness and sacredness worthy of them? Is it really true or not? Baffling.
Or…maybe we believe Jesus when he says that it was him? And with open hearts, we consider what this means. We remain curious about it. We ask for new, better ways of perception. We begin to notice Jesus everywhere. In some real way Jesus is the folks we meet who are strangers. Thirsty. Friendless. Tattered. Naked.
And that Jesus is in us when we are these things too.
Art: Patti Yukawa | digital photograph
Practice: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Explore the EJI website (click here) to learn more aobut The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.