Not long ago, I came across a Celtic saying that I thought I’d share with you: “Often, often, often, goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.”
The saying is a part of a longer poem called a “rune,” and it’s quite old, dating back to a time before the alphabet we now use had taken root in Ireland. (The name “rune,” in fact, refers to the letters of the Germanic alphabet that preceded our Latin one. For more on this, see Mark Beckwith’s blog).
But, of course, the message is older still. We hear it on Christ’s own lips in one of his last teachings to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me” (25:35, 40). Perhaps we could go back much further still, to the example of Abraham, welcoming the three strangers who rested beneath the shade of the oaks of Mamre—strangers who were more than they seemed to be (Gen. 18).
The Biblical witness has much to say about the welcoming of strangers, or the practice of hospitality, as we might call it. And like the stranger in disguise, the Christian practice of hospitality is more than it might seem to be at first blush. It not as simple as a series of actions: the opening of one’s home, the sharing of a meal, the spreading of a blanket over shivering shoulders. These are acts of hospitality, yes.
But there is more. To be hospitable, as our faith defines it, means learning to look deeply into the eyes of another and find Christ there. It means seeing more than the surface, peering into the heart.
And so, in the words of another Irish poem, we pray thus: Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Teach us to see the Christ in stranger’s guise.
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You can access the text of the Celtic Rune of Hospitality, as well as the helpful comments I’ve referenced, in Mark Beckwith’s blog post, found here:
The painting of Jesus is the work of Rembrandt, and can be accessed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_to_Emmaus_appearance#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_023.jpg