Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
We interact with “strangers” all the time. On the road, in the store, in the halls at a school, at an athletic event, at the bank, etc. There are innumerable times where someone follows into a building and we can hold a door open for them. Or two cars arrive at a four way stop at the same time and someone has to let someone go first. If you think about it, we actually have many opportunities to serve total strangers. And we also have opportunities to not serve, to be rude, to irritate others.
Some of us are familiar with the story of two young men, Mark and Bill. Mark is cleaning out his high school locker one Friday afternoon, and drops his books all over the ground. Bill helps him clean up the mess and even offers to help carry some of the books home with Mark. Mark invites Bill in and they have a fun afternoon playing video games. They become friends. Years pass and at their graduation from high school, Mark is the valedictorian. In his speech, he reveals that the day he was cleaning out his locker, he had planned on taking his own life, and was cleaning the locker so that his parents wouldn’t have to do it. His meeting Bill changed his life. Bill’s kindness saved his life. (This is a very paraphrased version of a story on the internet that may not even be true, it appears more as a parable but makes a good point—not only does the verse from Hebrews 13:2 connect helping a stranger to helping an angel, it connects helping a stranger to saving a life.)
Imagine if each of us made a goal to have a positive interaction with three people we didn’t know each day. We’re not talking about taking them out for coffee. We are talking about holding open a door, letting someone go first, even a smile and good morning. Simple gestures that really require no time and little effort. Imagine if each of us had at least three strangers show us some kindness in a day. In a world where we are all stressed, and some of us actually are living on our last nerve on many days, small gestures of kindness can go a long way to letting some air out of our stressful lives.
We recently held a prayer service for peace in the Middle East. After the service, one of the congregants asked me why we prayed for peace but didn’t mention the Middle East conflict in greater detail. I told him that there were two reasons. First, the service we offered was a Paraklesis service, which is offered in any time of sorrow or distress. The words of the service cover all kinds of sorrow and distress, so while a few specific petitions, where names and needs can be specifically made, mentioned the Middle East, the rest of the service was done as it always is. The second thing I said to the man as the two of us were talking, was that at that moment, my entire world consisted of me and him. In our ten minute interaction, my family was not there, the rest of our parish was not there, and the rest of the world was not there. My world for those moments was just me and him. If peace in the world is really a goal, then peace in the whole world starts with peace in our whole world, which at a given moment might be an interaction between two people, even two strangers.
Let’s go back to the example of two cars arriving at a four-way stop sign. If both cars proceed at the same time, they will crash. If one jumps in front of the other, or the drivers challenge each other, at the very least this will raise blood pressure, and at very worse, might result in some kind of confrontation between two strangers. Which would really be unnecessary. People wax poetic about the need for peace in the world, some even get up and protest about it, but do we really promote peace in “our private worlds”?
There are lots of “Marks” and “Bills” in the world. Not each scenario is a matter of life and death, but some are. Not each will result in an amazing friendship, but some will. If we really think about it, every person that we’ve ever met, outside of our family that we are born into, was once a stranger in our lives. The first time I met my wife, she was a stranger to me. The first time I met my Spiritual Father. The first time I met parishioners in the parish where I serve—they were strangers to me, and I was a stranger to them. Again, outside of my family which I was born into, everyone I’ve ever met, at the moment I first met them, was a stranger. That means that if I never showed a kindness to a stranger, I would have no friends. Years ago, I was working on a project, and one of my co-workers suggested as “add someone” at the last minute to work on the project. I didn’t know the person and I was actually resentful that we were adding someone to the team at the last minute that I didn’t think we needed. Not only was this person a stranger to me, but an unwanted one at that. Ironically, this person has become a close friend, and in at least one example, played the role of an angel for me. (Angels guard, protect and comfort, so sometimes, the “strangers” we meet end up being like angels for us, and sometimes we end up being like angels for the strangers we meet). And looking back, I shutter to think what my first interaction with this person was really like. Perhaps the Holy Spirit gave me some extra grace to be patient with the “stranger” that I was less than enthusiastic about working with.
Peace in the world begins with peace in the smallest segments of the world, which multiple times each day will be between us and strangers. Sometimes a stranger will become a friend. Most of the time, they will just stay strangers. We won’t have an opportunity to play the role of “Bill” each day, but whether we know it or not, we will probably play that role on some days. Strangers are people we tend to “deal with”. Imagine how the world could be different if we focused on serving them.
Lord, thank You for the gift of today. I know Lord, that on this day, I will interact with strangers, people whose names I may never know or whose circumstances I may never understand. Help me to interact positively with everyone I meet, especially those that I do not know. And help those whom I do meet, who are strangers to me, to show kindness to me as well. Thank You for the friends that I have, because at one point, each was a stranger to me, and I to them. Thank You for Your guiding hand that has caused strangers to become friends. Amen.
Serve a stranger, and in so doing you might make a friend, save a life or be an angel for someone. At very least, you’ll help promote peace in the world.