The Parable of the Lost Silver Piece by Godefridus Schalcken 1643-1706- The Hague
I appreciate the many metaphors for God in the Bible- a rock, a shepherd, the light, the wind and a king. I’ve always loved the feminine metaphors in Scripture comparing God to a human mother, a mother hen, a mother bear, a mother eagle and a woman searching for a lost silver coin. But I had never considered the metaphor of stranger in relation to God, till I listened to an interview with Irish philosopher Richard Kearney.
Abraham and the Three Strangers by Marc Chagall
Kearny pointed out how God came to Abraham and Sarah in the guise of three strangers to tell them the news they were to become parents. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the strangers and gave them food.
Trinity by Andrei Rublev- 1411 or 1425-27
Kearny said when the Russian Orthodox painter Andrei Rublev created his famous icon of the Trinity he chose to portray them as the three strangers who visited Abraham and Sarah.
The Cestello Annunciation by Sandro Bottecelli -1489
Mary, Jesus’ mother also welcomes a stranger in the form of the angel Gabriel who tells her she is going to have a baby.
In his interview, Kearny referred to Botticelli’s painting of Mary and Gabriel because Mary does look somewhat hesitant about accepting this strange being who brings such astounding news. Mary is reaching her hand to the stranger at the same time as she is backing away.
We know Jesus referred to himself as a stranger, when he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio 1601
After Jesus’ resurrection, he appears as a stranger to fellow travellers on the road to Emmaus. They chat with Jesus and even have a meal with him but don’t recognize him.
Philoxenia Love of the Stranger by Rev. Charlie Baber a comic artist for the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Look closely at the poster to see who Baber has chosen to be the three strangers in his take on the original Rublev icon.
What does the metaphor of God as a stranger teach us? We are so often wary of strangers, yet if strangers’ faces reflect the face of God then at the very least we owe them a smile, a greeting, and perhaps an invitation to share conversation.
I am finding during the pandemic that just like me, the strangers I pass as I walk outdoors seem hungry for positive recognition and interaction, isolated as we are from other people so much of the time.
A number of years ago there was a news story about a Winnipeg transit driver who stopped his bus on a chilly morning to get out and give his shoes to a barefoot stranger. The story garnered international attention. The bus driver seemed surprised at all the media exposure he was receiving. He figured most people would do the same thing he did if they saw a stranger in need.
In 1995 singer Joan Osborne had a hit song called What If God Was One of Us? The chorus goes………
What if God was one of us……………….. just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?
Other posts about strangers on buses………..
Another Friend for the Moment