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"Gifts and Strangers" - A Scripture Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter

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by Stephen Bevans, SVD | April 30, 2017

"Gifts and Strangers"
A Scripture Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2017: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; 1 Pt 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35

In November, 2013 I had the great privilege of attending the Tenth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. It was an amazing, inspiring meeting, made even more amazing and inspiring by the fact that I had been asked to give a short address to the four thousand or so delegates to the Assembly—the only Catholic invited to do so.

On one of the last days of the Assembly I went into the Assembly Hall to attend morning prayer, and sat down next to a perfect stranger, a youngish Korean man. He turned to me and began talking, and we realized that we had actually just corresponded with one another by e-mail. His name was Professor Kwang-Sun Choi, and we discovered that he was in a delegation that was scheduled to meet with my delegation that evening for supper and a program, and we made plans to sit together that evening at supper.

Something happened at that meal together. We really hit it off with one another and the man who had been a stranger in the morning became a friend that evening. We continued corresponding with one another, and last August, on another visit to Korea, Kwang-Sun and I spent several days together. I met his wife and two children, several of his friends, and he took me on a wonderful tour of the south west part of his country, including overnighting at a Buddhist monastery. As we talked together in those days I became deeply aware of the grace that I had been given in Kwang-Sun. He is a deeply spiritual man and his love of prayer, of creation, and of God inspired me tremendously. It was amazing how our friendship grew in just a few short encounters. I am so glad I sat down next to that stranger in Korea! What a gift he has been to me!

Today’s gospel reading, the famous story of Jesus and the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, is also about a stranger who became a great gift. The two disciples meet this stranger on the road, share their story with him, and after they invite him to dinner with them he reveals himself as the Risen Lord. Opening up to this stranger made all the difference.

Thinking about my own experience with a stranger in the light of the Emmaus story, I was reminded of some beautiful lines from the British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”:

… for Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father in the features of men’s faces

Thinking about my own experience with a stranger in the light of the Emmaus story, and in the light of Hopkins’s beautiful lines, prompts me to think how we need to be open to the strangers who come into our lives and cross our paths.  These may be strangers we meet at work, or in school, or beggars on the street. They might be strangers we will never really meet, like Syrian refugees or African migrants. They might be people who have different political views than we do, or practice their Catholicism differently, or differ in their sexual orientation. Or they might be Muslims or Hindus who live down the street from us. It might be that opening up to the strangers we encounter in our lives will lead us closer to discerning where God is calling us, and where our hearts are beckoning us. After all, as Ed Hahnenberg writes, vocation is about the fact that “God … calls … me … through others … for others.”

My colleague Tony Gittins wrote a book a few years ago entitled Gifts and Strangers. For Tony, strangers can be dangerous—they challenge us, the disorient us, they disturb our complacency. But they can also—even in their danger!—be gifts. Like my encounter with the stranger Kwang-Sun, like the disciples’ encounter with the stranger on the road to Emmaus, perhaps our openness to others in our lives can discover the Risen Lord who “plays in ten thousand places” in our world.

The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Steve Bevans is Professor Emeritus at Catholic Theological Union and the Faculty Moderator for Catholics on Call. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines.

His publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), and Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009).

He is past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In 2009 he was visiting lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia, and in 2013 he was the only Catholic to speak at a Plenary at the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Korea.

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