Stranger is not a term that has a particularly positive connotation. We learn from an early age that “stranger = danger.” This is a great concept for young kids to learn about possible dangers in unfamiliar places, but probably a concept that refines with age. Right? I have to admit, I carried that memorable caution into my adulthood.
"People who are strangers must be bad, and therefore, should be kept at arm’s length.” It wasn’t necessarily an expressed thought, more of an underlying theme that conveniently supported my introverted wiring.
What does God’s Word tell us about strangers? Here’s a hint, it lacks the memorable rhyme schemes of my childhood learnings. Hebrews 13:1-2 tells us, “Keep loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Did you catch that? The author of Hebrews places showing hospitality to strangers in the same breath as loving our brothers and sisters.
Terry Smith, pastor of one of the most diverse churches in our country, wrote a book called “The Hospitable Leader” that really helped me to see a different perspective on this topic. He wrote, “A stranger, for the purpose of this discussion, is anyone who seems strange to you. Or to whom you may seem strange. This could be someone you do not know or who does not know you, whose background, worldview, or lifestyle may seem strange to you… In some seasons of life, a stranger could even be your child. Or a patient, student, employee, or perhaps even a congregant. Anyone you feel is, even just sometimes, strange to you.”
That helps. A stranger isn’t necessarily a suspicious looking person standing on the street corner that I’m inviting into my house. It’s someone who is, in some way, strange to me. One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes is, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” What a profound statement of pursuing someone who is a stranger!
Of course, my own story is as good of an example as any of a stranger being pursued. In the mystery of all mysteries, while I was still a stranger to Him, God welcomed me with open arms. In fact, I was more than strange to Him. I was an enemy (Romans 5:10). I’m still learning to give freely that which I’ve received, but I’m grateful for His patience and persistence… even if “stranger = danger” is still occasionally my default position. Praise be to God alone!