My father-in-law was one of those rare individuals who “never met a stranger.” Late in his life, my wife and I sometimes walked with him early in the morning at the mall. He spoke to most people by name. When he passed people he didn’t know, he introduced himself with jubilant, small-town enthusiasm. I prayed under my breath that the newcomers wouldn’t smile, as any hint of friendliness could cause another twenty-minute pause to visit.
Interestingly, the Bible offers a different take on who we call a stranger. For certain, Matthew 25 demonstrates God’s care for strangers, as our mercy to them is considered kindness toward Him.
How does the Bible describe a stranger and how could God’s definition affect our view of the world?
Who Is a Stranger?
In Western culture, a stranger is merely someone with whom we are unacquainted. Strangers pass us every day on the highway, in the store, or in the hallways at our work or school. In contrast, the Old Testament refers to a foreigner as one whose birth and home are of another land, and a stranger as a person who has established residence in a country not their own. In short, a biblical stranger is one we might refer to as an alien or an immigrant.
The Law of Moses offers protections for residents of foreign birth.
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:32-37 NASB).
Again, in Exodus, the Israelites are instructed to have compassion for strangers.
“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NASB).
Finding Jesus in a Stranger
Just like the Hebrews living in Egypt, we were strangers to the promises of Christ. The same admonition of “remember how it felt to be an outsider” is used by the Apostle Paul as he writes.
“… remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2: 12 NASB).
Jesus extends the Hebrew practice of offering kindness to a stranger as He describes the separation of God’s sheep at the judgment seat.
“I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;” (Matthew 25:35 NASB).
Regardless of political differences, as Christians, we’re called to offer respect and kindness to strangers as if we were standing before Jesus. This is a season for politicians of every stripe to leverage this as an “issue.” Compassion is outside political talking points; mercy is a prerequisite of the Christian life. Seeing Christ in a stranger may well determine which side of the aisle we stand when it comes to Matthew 25 judgment.