We all feel at times like strangers in this world – lost, misunderstood, estranged from others, even estranged from God. And yet, he knows everything about us—even things we don’t even know about ourselves. And he longs for us to draw near to him so he can show us just how near and dear we really are to his heart. That sense of estrangement we occasionally experience is part of our own poverty of spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Jesus seemed strange to people—“if God’s holy wisdom seems foolish to men, he must have seemed out of his mind” (from “God’s Own Fool” by Christian singer/songwriter Michael Card). But loving people with perfect love is something the world calls strange. As Christians we are strangers to this world. But we are called to love others with God’s love—even, and especially, the least of these.
That’s a tall order. I’ve been around those who are estranged from society—the homeless and the hurting—enough to know that the ones who need our love and grace the most are often the hardest to be around. Some are mentally ill, some are very angry and bitter at life and at God, and some are just plain uncouth. Jesus was able to show acceptance and kindness to lepers and other “untouchables” of his day; some, in fact, were numbered among his closest followers.
I’ve found that contemplative prayer helps me to be more open to and accepting of “the least of these” in my own life. That’s partly because it tends to open a person up to the gracious, compassionate heart of God, and to help break down the defenses we put up against people who are different from us. I also think it’s partly because contemplative prayer is in itself a “least-of-these” type of activity: people want to avoid silence and stillness, not camp right smack in the middle of it. And if you become a contemplative yourself, you’re always going to seem a bit weird to a lot of people. That “mystical prayer” stuff tends to freak people out a bit.
But as we learn to enter into silence, we begin to see our own emptiness and brokenness, and become more and more aware of God’s presence as he enters with us into our own spiritual poverty. It’s that poverty which we want to deny, to sweep under the rug and forget, that God wants us to face boldly and honestly. When we do, we begin to know God in a way that goes far beyond memes, platitudes, even beyond memorized bible verses. There, we begin to see Jesus as the unwanted, unloved, misunderstood homeless stranger in our midst.