From the earliest days of the Church, pilgrimage has been one of the most fundamental experiences of Christian piety. The concept of pilgrimage certainly goes back to the experiences of Israel: Abraham’s pilgrimage from Ur to Canaan, Israel’s move from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the return to Israel from the Babylonian captivity. The most profound experience of being a pilgrim is that of being a stranger in a strange land. The pilgrim is utterly dependent upon the hospitality of the residents there, as the language, land, and customs are utterly foreign to the visitor. The pilgrim is also one who must trust in the good will of those who occupy this strange land. Today’s readings highlight for us the reality of our pilgrim status on earth.
The Gospel text provides its original audience the definitive interpretation of the Old Law by Jesus. The Law consists in love of God and love of neighbor – two commandments that cannot be separated. Matthew’s readers were Jewish Christians living after the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of their expulsion from the synagogues. This audience was keenly aware of their status as strangers and aliens in a foreign land: the land of Israel that no longer welcomed them, and the land of the Roman Empire that was no home to the Christian community. Loving God and neighbor become the way of living as a pilgrim in this foreign place that speaks a different language than that of the Christian.
Paul’s community in Thessalonica also experienced this pilgrim status as they go forth into new territories for the Gospel message. In moving westward from Asia Minor to the Greek mainland, Paul enters a new world and the word alone will not be able to win people to the Gospel of Christ. By living the faith and imitating the deeds of Jesus, people in this strange land come to accept the Gospel. When a person is not able to speak the language of a strange land, actions are the universal language to overcome this barrier. Christians come to embody the love of neighbor in welcoming the stranger in their midst. This hospitality leads to the acceptance of the Gospel by those who were foreign to this language.
The first reading from the book of Exodus challenges the Israelite community to remember their status as strangers and aliens in a foreign land. God commands them to welcome the stranger and alien into their midst because they were once in that position. God anticipates Israel’s movement from a minority under rule by a dominant empire to the day when they would have their own land. Such transitions are a challenge to any society. It is easy to be in favor of social justice when one is the minority and experiencing injustice from others. It becomes more of a challenge to live the message of social justice when you become the majority and feel threatened by the presence of those different from you.
The history of our nation is replete with examples of oppressed minorities crying for justice who later become part of the majority and then become the oppressors of the new stranger and alien. In very many cases it has been Catholic populations from other lands who have experienced such hostility, and sadly enough in more recent times it is some Catholics who seek to oppress the new group of strangers who themselves are Catholic! Today the most prosperous nation on earth has initiated harsh and extremely limiting laws to prevent people from entering our land lawfully. At the same time we look the other way when immigrants are exploited for their work so that we might continue to live as we like. Such policies have only increased the scourge of human trafficking and drug trafficking globally and in our own land. We must never forget our history as strangers and aliens, nor must we forget our theology of being a pilgrim people who everywhere are strangers and aliens in a world that does not speak the language of Jesus the Lord.
As we seek to recover our pilgrim identity and imitate our ancestors in faith who welcomed the stranger, let us pray in the words of the Church in today’s liturgy: “Let us pray in humble hope for salvation. Praised be you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no power for good which does not come from your covenant, and no promise to hope in, that your love has not offered. Strengthen our faith to accept your covenant and give us the love to carry out your command. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here.
Monday, October 24
Psalms 68:2 and 4, 6-7ab, 20-21
Tuesday, October 25
Psalms 126:1b-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Wednesday, October 26
Psalms 13:4-5, 6
Thursday, October 27
Psalms 109:21-22, 26-27, 30-31
Friday, October 28
Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5
Saturday, October 29
Romans 11:1-2a, 11-12, 25-29
Psalms 94:12-13a, 14-15, 17-18
Luke 14:1, 7-11
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 30
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
Psalms 131:1, 2, 3
1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week
can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.