Notes from Our Pastor March 2018 – Approaching Holy Week


At the end of this month, we observe Holy Week, with all the drama of Christ’s betrayal, trial, suffering, and death presented within the services. Not only is this the most moving time of the Church year, but it always reveals for me new possibilities of how I (and perhaps you as well) can see myself in the various personae who comprise this drama.  While we are aware that behind the scenes, God is directing all actions toward the ultimate act of love in Jesus’ Crucifixion, nevertheless, the action is also accomplished by each human player’s personal choices and actions, whether faithful or not.  The God of history works with and through human beings and we can never escape responsibility for our freedom to choose and to act.

To illustrate this, focus upon Pontius Pilate, who is neither Jew nor disciple of Jesus, and who, among all the characters, appears to have the most earthly power at his disposal and should therefore be able to act freely to his own ends.  There are many explication and comments that should be made when reading John’s Gospel as a whole, and particularly with reference to his treatments of “the Jews,” but right now let’s accept the drama as the gospel presents it to us as part of the Passion Gospel which we read every Good Friday during the service.1 Within this extended reading, we can focus on Pilate and learn from him.

The historical Pontius Pilate was anything but merciful or tenderhearted; in the end, the Emperor removed him from his position as prefect (or governor) in Judea because of notorious cruelty and constant uprisings by the people which resulted from his actions. But John depicts Pilate as a man intrigued with Jesus and his plight. Instead of condemning Jesus outright – which is all the priests and temple leadership want him to do – the Roman governor asked Jesus himself to explain what he is guilty of. The problem is that he cannot hear or understand the answers he is given.

As a representative of the power of Rome, Pilate asks the reasonable question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn 18:33) Jesus answered:

My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. (Jn 18:36)

Unclear what of what to make of this answer, Pilate presses Jesus, but unfortunately, the answer he receives is not in the terms of the power/powerless distinction Pilate can understand. Jesus instead answers,

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (Jn 18:37)

Rather than trying to learn more and thereby understand who Jesus believed himself to be, Pilate takes the tone of a cocky sophomore and dismisses Jesus and his message by offering the rhetorical rejoinder, “What is truth?”

Not only does Pilate not understand Truth, he also does not understand authority. He publicly declares Jesus innocent of guilt, but sends him to be flogged in the hands of his sadistic soldiers. After his exhibiting of the prisoner before the crowd, their cries to crucify Jesus further confuse Pilate. Hearing them repeat the claim that Jesus claimed he was the Son of God (Jn 19:7), the fearful Pilate turns to Jesus again for answers—answers which the power-minded prefect cannot comprehend. Jesus remains silent in response to the Roman’s questions, having in his own mind moved beyond this moment with the prefect and on to his ultimate exultation on the Cross.

Pilate’s world is crumbling fast. Though armed with the authority of his office and the military power of Rome, he does not seem able to intimidate or win over the angry crowds outside his palace. Now even his prisoner, brought back within his chamber, refuses to speak to Pilate. Enraged and threatened because his power is not avail him, the prefect threatens as a bully would:

Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” (Jn 19:10)

Jesus’ response to this threat of violence defeats his prosecutor:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above… (Jn 1911)

Ultimately, the deflated Pilate abdicates his opposition and allows the crowd to crucify his prisoner.

As Roman prefect over the whole province, Pontius Pilate should have been the most powerful figure in this drama. But Jesus’ fearless words shattered the illusion of his power as they affirmed the ultimate authority of God over all rulers and earthly systems. Equally true is the fact that Pilate failed to recognize the truth when it was presented to him. He allowed events happening around him and considerations of power – whether exercised, threatened, or dictated by others – to cloud his judgment and to lead to his damnable retreat from true authority.

Pilate said to the Jews, “Here is your King!”

They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”

Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?”

The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. (Jn 14-16)

Pilate believed himself in the end to be overmatched in this conflict, but the deciding factor in his tragedy is that he did not exercise his own freedom and judgment. He had the power of life and death over Jesus, but by ignoring what his heart warned him about exercising that authority, he abdicated to the events and their inexorable power. He stepped back from decision-making when the moment called for a decision, and thereby allowed himself to become an accomplice to the wrong he halfheartedly wanted to avoid.

Accepting John’s account of this drama at face value, we can learn some valuable lessons. First, that the events of Good Friday were but the final act of the plan which God has set in motion from the time of Jesus his Incarnation. The will of God was done with a great deal of irony concerning all the players. Peter swears ultimate fidelity, but denies Jesus because of his weakness and fear. The chief priests of Israel do not recognize their king, and thereby give him his “exaltation” – on the Cross! Caiaphas plots Jesus death so that “one man should die for the people” to save the nation, unaware that after the Resurrection, Christians would affirm exactly that. The inscription over the Cross, intending to announce the reason for his execution, ironically proclaims him, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  And Pilate, who senses that an injustice is being done before him, cannot make effective use of the authority which he has been granted—and that failure of his use of power enables the reality of the Crucifixion to follow its divine trajectory to God’s appointed end.

See you at services between Palm Sunday and Easter!

Fr. Bill

1All references are to the Gospel John, using the New Revised Standard Version.



Notes from Our Pastor Feb. 2018 – The Journey Ahead


The month of February contains Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. There are many ways we could characterize Lent in terms of repentance/penitence, spiritual discovery, or renewal, to name just a few. This Lent, you and I are about to embark on one of life’s journeys. It is anything but new, of course, to characterize the Christian life as a spiritual journey—Christian writers of all types, including Dante and John Bunyan, have used the journey as the means to describe the course of internal change as the soul seeks God in ever-new situations. This year, both our congregations and I myself will begin our journeys in search of how we can best serve God and live into our Christian calling as we deal with change.  My change will involve leaving my beloved Downriver churches to move to San Francisco and a new life with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild.  For you, the journey will be from the current pastoral situation to a new form of parish life under a new priest and with new or renewed vision of the parish’s mission.

In its wisdom, the Church has set aside the season leading up to Christ’s Passion as a time for reflection, prayer, and taking stock of our lives. The express purpose of our Lenten journey is to prepare to move forward spiritually, to seek to grow towards greater maturity in our life in Christ so that we may more fully understand and embrace the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. In order to grow, we also much accept change.  Jesus aptly likens it to a death experience:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12: 24)

Unless we are willing to let go of some things, we cannot move on.  Thus, one inevitable but crucial aspect of making any journey—including this Lenten spiritual journey—is taking leave of one place (parallel to the seed’s death) in order to move to another; leaving behind some parts of our self in order to allow other parts to grow and flourish.  As we reflect on Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and the Cross, we also consciously sacrifice our old lives in order to embrace the new one which shares in Christ’s resurrection.

Nothing ever remains the same throughout life. But while changes constantly occur, we can be unaware of it – as we do while we age from one stage of life to another.  As mature adults, we can recognize the dynamics of change, make deliberate choices when they arise, and (to the extent humanly possible) shape our own ends.  I seek this Lent to enlarge my spiritual journey to include many other aspects of self-awareness and identity which constitute both our daily life and our life of faith. Since I have always believed that the division of our life into spiritual vs. secular is arbitrary and artificial, I want to take this season of Lent and use it as a time to take stock of the whole of myself, so that the upcoming changes will become the means for me to set out on the next leg of the journey even more firmly rooted in the Lord.

All journeys involve change—external and inner change—and change is always difficult. I desire to embrace this conscious choice to journey and to seize the opportunity of change to evaluate my current life and to prepare for my new identity in the next phase of my life.  I will remain a husband, father, and priest; I will become a grandfather, possibly a retired person or someone who must adapt to another new context for ministry. In the process, I must leave behind nearly 30 years in Michigan, the friends I have made here, and the loving relationships which have characterized our life together in community.  Nevertheless, I want to use this Lent to focus not only on the separation and loss, but also on the blessings I have received with all of you.  My personal Lenten journey will also involve using my critical resources to assess and understand this move as its own sort of “call” or vocation.

The road lies ahead of us and the journey will begin.  The diocese is there to support you and offer guidance.  Jim Gettel, Canon for Congregational Life, will have the first meeting with those members of our congregations who wish to begin the transition on February 28th at 7:00 PM at St. Luke’s.  In addition to making my own spiritual journey as described above, I will continue to be there as your priest through Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and beyond.  Know that the spiritual gifts which have served our two churches so well over all these years are still there to serve you on the journey.  I have often bragged that what I found so remarkable about Christ the King and St. Luke’s is the way in which ministry has always been a shared venture, with me doing what a priest was called to do, but knowing that so many other parts of the total ministry and life of our parishes were taken care of by you and all your gifts.  I recognize your strengths and your faith, and with the continued presence of the Holy Spirit, I look for good things to come as our journey takes us to God’s appointed place.


Fr. Bill

Notes from Our Pastor Jan. 2018 – One Body, One Spirit


There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4: 4-7)

        As I read over the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the words there struck me as the best possible hope for the new year, which is why I’m using the text for this month’s newsletter. Paul envisions, not only the congregation at Ephesus, but all future bodies who assemble in the name of Christ, as having an essential unity.  “One body and one Spirit” are the hallmarks of the Christian faith, of our calling to join and belong to not only our church communities, but also across time to our sense of belonging to something that is bigger than any one time, place, or denominational identification. We are grounded ultimately in our relationship to the living Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that identity, we can look at our fellow Christians and see commonalities, rather than simply differences. More than that—we can use the strength of that unified vision to act creatively to transform the world.

Differences among us certainly abound! In fact, we read that Paul’s churches were mixed even within each particular congregation. If we were able to use some sort of time machine to go back to Ephesus, or any of the Pauline churches in his day, we would see people who look different than we look, whose language and customs would seem very far removed from our own, and whose manner of interacting would appear every bit as strange as if we were transplanted into a village in the depths of Africa or the top of the Himalayas. Nevertheless, through Paul’s eyes, we can see that all these differences pale when contrasted to the essential unity that we find in Christ. Though he says that among them they have various natures, Paul identifies these not as problematic, but rather as “gifts of the spirit,” making some of them prophets, or evangelists, or pastors—and the list goes on. Furthermore, all these gifts come from one Spirit.  Each person is valued because he or she brings those gifts into the community to be utilized, as he says, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 12) Paul’s response to such diversity is to embrace it as an abundance of riches, rather than categorizing it as a threat to the group. Such vision redeems, rather than disparages, differences among members of the Church.

As we enter 2018, what we see in our nation, let alone the world, is a confused mix of partisanship, of what one reporter called “tribalism.” We are very quick to identify ourselves ideologically as either for or against a whole laundry list of items.  We have become less a nation with a shared vision than a mass of factions each of which only listen to themselves and to those who speak the same language or who say the same things we say.  We seem to have lost our greater identification with one another, of sharing the recognition that we are all American citizens. I am disheartened by this continual factiousness.

But even if this is the case across our country, it cannot be allowed to characterize the Church. Call me a dreamer or a Pollyanna, but I do believe that the Church is still a sacred institution. I believe it is founded always on the presence of the Spirit of Christ, despite the way history has shaped and molded its particular contours. This is why I always return to our source texts in the Bible – the Gospels, the letters of Paul and the early apostles – as the foundational statements about Jesus Christ and about the Church as the witness to Christ both in that age and in our own. When we come upon a text such as Ephesians chapter 4, I believe we are given a kind of head slap to wake us up and remind us again of whom we are called to be.

Christians may vary in their understanding of how to deal with the problems of the world; Christians may approach political problems from a variety of perspectives; but ultimately, Christians need to test every other belief and application of our energies against the call of our Lord to be faithful to him and to the needs of this world. We will always remain different from one another – that is the nature of human identity and personality. And yet underlying our differences, there are basic human needs, such as the need to be loved, to be affirmed, to have purpose in life, to mourn our losses and to rejoice in our blessings:  all these should unite us as humans. In response to this basic humanity, God’s response was to send the Word to embrace the flesh of which we are made and to dwell among us (John 1:14). Being among us as one of us, Jesus knew the full nature of what humanity could encompass. Yet we affirm that he came not just to first-century Jews, or even to those Gentiles who later in the century would embrace the message, but ultimately for the salvation and transformation of all peoples.

Mindful of our basic relationship to Christ and his call to us in our current state—limited, petty, egotistical, yet endowed with “gifts” of the Spirit—we can embrace Paul’s vision in Ephesians 4. Let us resolve in this new year to commit ourselves to accepting one another, perhaps despite our differences, as equal recipients of God’s grace and God’s call.  Hearing Paul’s gospel, let us put aside our judgement of one another and replace it with the vision that makes us one Body called by one Spirit in Christ.


Fr. Bill


Notes from Our Pastor Dec. 2017 – Spirit of Christmas


If someone were to try to capture “the essence of Christmas,” one really could not improve on the message which Linus delivered to Charlie Brown over 50 years ago. When Charlie Brown is discouraged because everything in his Christmas season has become a train wreck, Linus responds by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2: 9-11, NRSV)

There is much in those few verses that still speaks to us today. We are a people who have an incredibly high standard of living compared to previous ages and to much of the rest of the world, yet we are very afraid of so many things – the prospect of war, the cost of healthcare and virtually everything else, the fear of those beyond our borders and many of those within our borders. How can we, in our fear-ridden age, hear the Good News which the angels proclaimed to those shepherds?

We must remember the context of the story. The time is two millennia ago, when darkness after the setting of the sun was total unless someone lit a fire. The scene is in a backwater province of the Roman Empire, where foreign troops are billeted everywhere and life in Judea is precarious and cheap. The audience is comprised of shepherds – persons without social standing, probably eking out a limited existence as they keep the night watch over their herds. It is into that darkness and brutal context that God chooses to announce to this unlikely band a message not only of hope, but of fulfillment.

For the Good News proclaimed to all people was the fulfillment of promises made generations before to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the whole of Israel in their times of oppression. And what was proclaimed in the birth of Jesus is nothing less than the inauguration of a new time when God comes fully into God’s reign characterized by the promise of peace and goodwill.

The problem we face every Christmas is that, when we look around at the darkness of our world, we find it hard to believe that God is truly in charge. Put another way, does it really seem like Jesus, his life, death, and even resurrection, have really made a difference? What the angels proclaimed so long ago was not a promise, but the fulfillment of a promise. And if that is true, then somehow we Christians have missed the boat.

For if we truly believe that Jesus is the long-expected deliverer who makes God personal and present, who has inaugurated by his redeeming presence a new age of the Kingdom of God, then we should be living a life which proclaims, by word and deed, our experience of God’s reign over and through us. In other words, Christians should take the message of the angels as genuine, and our lives should be a reflection of the presence of God as we know God through Jesus Christ. Nothing less will actually serve to celebrate Christmas as the gospel proclaims it.

Beyond all the lights and tinsel, beyond the music of exultation and joy, certainly beyond any gifts we might exchange in celebration, the giving of ourselves to the world as a people transformed by the knowledge of the living God and God’s presence in our hearts would be the most acceptable way to celebrate Christmas. Indeed, then Christmas itself would be only a yearly marking of our acceptance of the grace which God has bestowed upon the world, and the welcoming of the living Christ as the center of our being. We would then live as if we truly believed that we are in the new age of God’s reign – and we would do that to the glory of God’s Name. And in that spirit, we would make this our song:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors
!”  (Luke 2: 14, NRSV)

Have a blessed Christmas season, and made the spirit of the God-given Christ dwell within each of us every day of the year!


Father Bill


Notes from Our Pastor – Thanksgiving Day


Thanksgiving Day is becoming a lost holiday; not only is it losing ground to the overwhelming pull of Christmas shopping, but I believe that the rationale for the holiday itself is fast disappearing as well. For this reflection, the history of the American holiday of Thanksgiving is not as important as the shift in attitude pervading our culture.  My father and his generation who grew up during the Depression wanted for many things in their lives. If the family could keep a roof over their heads and food on the table so that the children went to bed without hunger pains, they considered they were doing all right. Many people had no cars, even though they might work on the production line in the auto industry. When life was harder and existence threatened – first economically by the Depression then by the coming of the World War – people seem to learn how to value the basics and essentials of life. People could be thankful to have any job, not worrying about whether it offered them “fulfillment” or some other higher but more abstract value. The range of foods and beverages which compete for our palate were unknown except to the very wealthy. Bread, starches, soups, and perhaps a little meat from time to time were more appreciated than the luxuries we take for granted now. We might perhaps conclude from this that a thankful spirit is more likely to be found among those who have less than among those who are completely filled and satiated.

The perspective of earlier generations also seems to have found its center in love of family, in patriotism, and above all in religious faith. A belief in God was widespread and perhaps was held by the majority of people, regardless of which religious tradition they belong to. The understanding that God as our Creator and the provider of all good things (which is an apt description of the God found in the Bible) puts God at the center of everything. As our brilliant, radiant sun sits at the center of the solar system, radiating heat and light to the earth and making life possible from day to day, so our faith sees God as the source and sustainer of life. From that perspective, a spirit of thankfulness would be a natural response within us.  At this point in the year, when agricultural harvests have been gathered in, it would be natural to think God for the produce and rewards of our labor, lending itself to setting apart a special day for Thanksgiving.

Returning to the analogy of the solar system, however, our current cultural perspective is more like the ancient view that the earth is the center of all things, with the sun and other bodies just circling around it. A culture of plenty measured by the amount of goods and services produced and consumed does not consider our relationship to God  as the measure of our human worth; instead, all too often people are measured and valued (or devalued, degraded, and disregarded) based upon economic standards. Hand-in-hand with that is the belief that what I have results solely from what I have worked for and earned myself – it is mine and I claim both possession of it and the credit for obtaining it. Perhaps I was lucky in finding the right job, but otherwise all things derive from my own work and effort. Why therefore should we be thankful? You can see how this perspective based on an economic model of the person elevates the self to its own center, while at the same time creating within us a desire for more and more to consume or own.  It also engenders within our hearts a contempt for those who have not reached the same place we have. Ideas such as the intrinsic or God-given dignity of all people, a positive regard for (let alone love of) our neighbor, and showing gratitude for the blessings that we have all disappear.

Thankfulness actually requires a degree of humility, for if I am not self-sufficient and solely responsible for what I have based on my own achievements, then I must acknowledge that these are gifts or blessings from God. Unless I am willing to grant God His due place at the center and recognize that all that I am and all that I have come from God, I will never know what true thankfulness is.

We can see then why Thanksgiving seems to have lost its place in our national life. To be sure, it is still a day of feasting, celebration, and the ingathering of families, but the immediate associations are excessive eating, football games, and the kick off (nope unintended) of the season of buying and consuming. The picture of an extended family feasting together, enjoying one another’s company, and giving thanks for the good things they have received has sadly become a black and white snapshot stuck in an old photo album from years past. The night before Thanksgiving, for example, is well documented as the busiest time in bars and taverns across the country as returning college students and other young adults gather with their friends, rather than the previous expectation that they would visit with older relatives to begin the holiday. And the day after Thanksgiving is aptly referred to as “Black Friday,” because people cannot wait to leave their families and feasting to start buying and partake of sales as soon as possible.

Taking a page out of the Prayer Book, we remember that the word Eucharist is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” The service begins with the dialogue between the celebrant and the people:

Lord be with you!

And also with you

Lift up your hearts!

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.


It is indeed good and right and proper to give thanks to God in all times and in all places for God’s goodness towards us, starting with the fact that we are alive and present, and that God has seen us through so many trials and heartbreaks, and has given us so many gifts and blessings. Our weekly Eucharistic service is one expression of this understanding of the relationship between ourselves and our God. The same impulse and humble response within our hearts can help us celebrate this Thanksgiving Day in a manner which sets it aside as holy and acceptable to the Lord. I can think of no more apt words to conclude this meditation than the collect for Thanksgiving Day:

Almighty and gracious father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  (BCP, 246)

-Fr. Bill


Notes from Our Pastor Nov. 2017 – Autumn Reflections


November may be the most introspective month of the year.  Not only has the weather turned colder, driving us more and more indoors, but the darkening days also tend to make us more reflective.  The calendar seems to support this, as the key days of this month bring to mind lost loved ones and the terrible cost of the last century’s wars.  Even Thanksgiving Day receives its power to move us from our recollection of blessings we have received.

Episcopalians begin the month of November with All Saints’ Day (November 1), also celebrated by other Christian churches.  This is not only a celebration of those whose exemplary faith has inspired us, but also the celebration of the many others who have lived their lives in faith and who now enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.  This feast day always contains a somber element as we remember those we still love, even as we mourn their loss. Each parish lovingly recalls its own saints (as Paul called them), their connection to us, and their contribution to our common life.  The celebration of All Saints’ Day reminds us that our own days on earth are finite.  The reflection upon our own passing lives gives us cause to assess our impact on the world around us, our relationship to God, and the purposes by which we live out our baptismal covenant.

Ninety-five years ago, the nations who put down their arms after the Great War solemnly declared that never again would the world have to suffer the cruelties of such a disastrous conflict.  While history has again and again mocked their expectations with greater and even more destructive wars, I believe their hope that someday we will learn to resolve our conflicts in more productive ways and value the gifts of peace will be realized.  I am certain that every veteran shares that dream as well.

November includes our celebration of Thanksgiving.  Despite the threats around the world and frustrations of trying to govern ourselves as a republic should, we Americans understand how God has not only blessed us in the past, but continues to bless in our day.  In reflection upon these our blessings, we take this day to acknowledge the good things we enjoy—the security of peace, our families who surround us, the comforts and richness of our lives—as gifts from the loving God whose steadfast love endures forever.

Finally, this year, the Church reaches the climax of its liturgical year in the celebration of Christ the King Sunday.  Completing the vision of that place where all the faithful are eternally gathered before God, this feast day acknowledges that Christ is our Lord and Sovereign over all.  Putting all our inward thoughts into this cosmic perspective, we can know that all things have having their meaning within the framework of Christ and His governance.  Thus, November can contain the worst of human fears found in war and death and move past that darkness into the vision of God’s realm and the thankful outpouring of our hearts for the gifts of this life and the greater gift of eternal life.

Fr. Bill


Notes from Our Pastor Oct. 2017 – Hospitality


We are both Christians and Americans. When we face problems which affect our nation and define us as Americans, how do we Christians know how to answer questions such as those concerning immigration and how to treat aliens within our borders? Whenever we are faced with such decisions to be made in our everyday lives, it is best if we do a thoughtful theological evaluation of the problem, which I hope to illustrate in this pastoral note to you.

Real theological reflection on any issue always includes consulting Scripture as the basis for our understanding. As Christians, we give priority to the teaching of the New Testament. But we should remember that Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the writers of the New Testament were versed in Hebrew Scriptures, which shaped their perspective and ethical framework. We therefore cannot discount what the Torah taught them. When they address the situation of sojourners or aliens among the people of Israel, for instance, the Torah commandments are clear. First of all, the Lord recognizes sojourners or aliens within the land of Israel and directs that, these “outsiders” are to be treated as fully human and given respect. This is clear in the commandment concerning the Sabbath, for the sojourner is also entitled to the freedom of the day of rest, just as the Israelite enjoys it.

But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:10)

Not only are sojourners allowed the Sabbath rest, but provision is made even for them to participate in the holy festival of Passover, which marks God’s act of deliverance (see Numbers 9:14). God stresses this need for equitable treatment in the commandment, “You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 24:22; see also Numbers 15:15)

Recognizing our human propensity to take advantage or oppress those who are different, the Lord repeatedly commands that no such oppression is allowed. In fact, Israel is to take special care to provide for the needs of aliens, like other poor and oppressed groups. They are to be given the opportunity to support themselves and the means of living:

And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.  (Leviticus 19:10)

God instructs Israel, God’s Cherished People, to show their love by justice, which cares especially for those who cannot fend for themselves:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17-19; see also Deut 14:29)

Pay particular attention to that last phrase, for the Lord reminds Israel that they themselves were once aliens and sojourners in Egypt, where they were oppressed – and God heard their cry; therefore, Israel shall not be like Egypt to its sojourners and aliens. In fact, the Lord reminds Israel that the whole world—including the land of Israel– is His, and therefore even those who have possession of the Promised Land do so as temporary sojourners with God’s blessing.

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me. (Leviticus 25:23)

The point is clear: God alone is sovereign, and all people and their lot in life come under God’s surveillance.

When we turn to the teachings of Jesus himself, two examples will serve to illustrate how Jesus equated aliens even with the most “righteous” of his own people and followers.  For example, the parable of “The Good Samaritan” shows how putting into practice the key commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is exemplified by the alien Samaritan, in contrast to the religious leaders of Israel (Luke 10:25-37).

But even more telling is the parable of the Last Judgment found in Matthew, chapter 25.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Mt 25: 31-2)

The Son will reward those who were compassionate and righteous in their dealings with the needy, specifically equating their needs to His own person:

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  (Mt 25:35-6)

When those being rewarded are confused about what Christ refers to, He clarifies by stating, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25: 40)  In so doing, the parable equates the person of Christ with all those who were in need—including the “stranger.”  Response to their needs wins His approval, while neglect of those same persons and their needs brings under judgment those who lacked the compassion to respond. The parable is clear that it is the actual stranger or needy ones whom we must address if we are to show our love for Christ and serve God.

Finally, Paul uses the alien/stranger metaphor as the means to explain the reconciling work of Christ:

Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;  for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  (Ephesians 2: 12-14, 17-22)

In this statement, we are told that we were once aliens, outsiders, strangers—but that is no longer the case because our alien nature has been obliterated by the work of Christ.  Thus, in the true spirit of Christian community, we not only respect the alien and care for them, but we are told that all such distinctions and separate natures disappear.  As our own alien status has been removed through Christ, now all are equally part of the community.  Where, therefore, is there ground for any who are in Christ to condemn, persecute, or turn away from the stranger or alien, if Christ Himself has abolished such distinctions in our understanding?

Fr. Bill