Sometimes it’s harder to welcome the “near stranger” than the “far stranger.” The “near stranger” is the person we already know, who is part of our group, and who nevertheless seems like a stranger in their political views, their vaccine status, their voting patterns or their social commitments. It’s the people we share church with that are sometimes the hardest to welcome, to embrace as sibling, to recognize as a beloved child of God. Especially when they vote differently or hold different views of God than I do.
In Ephesians 2 Paul is addressing precisely this experience: the difficulty of life together when some Christians are Jews and others are Greeks, when some Christians are slaves and others are not, when some Christians are circumcised and some Christians are not (gentile). He’s not talking about receiving the “far stranger” or the non-Christian, but the “near stranger.”
At times, it’s easier for me to care about refugees or the strangers far away, to be generous and welcoming to those outside my group. Sometimes it seems easier for progressive Christians to welcome Muslims than to welcome evangelical Christians and vice versa.
How can Christian community hold all of us, with our troubled differences and frequent distrust of one another? Paul reminds us that our common life as Christians does not depend on us all agreeing on everything. The good news is not that we all agree. The good news is that “you who were far away from God, who were strangers and aliens,” are now “God’s people and you belong to God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). Jesus shows us the way -- God’s wide and abundant Life that scoops us all up and holds us our lives, making us all family within God’s household (oikos).
Today, notice a near stranger. Imagine them, sitting next to you, at God’s household table, even while you still disagree. Enjoy the feast!