Ordinary People

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

C.S. Lewis wrote that in “The Weight of Glory.” Later in the essay he says that, apart from the sacraments, neighbors are “the holiest object presented to your senses.”

It’s a staggering idea. When I hear the word “holy,” I usually start with places: places that intimidated me as a child, or, as an adult, touring Europe, perhaps a cathedral, quiet and dark except for candles flickering in corners. But as Stephen, the first Martyr reminded his accusers, “the Most High does not dwell in places made with human hands” (Acts 7:48).

The Temple and its surroundings, where Stephen made his confession, was destroyed in 70 AD, leaving only a portion of its western wall. The Roman Empire that destroyed the Temple? It’s gone too.

The things we encounter every day are the same: they may have been around a long time, and they might endure long after we’re gone, but they’re passing away.

They’re all passing away, that is, except us—our neighbors, and ourselves, and strangers driving through town. We’re immortal—and that makes us extraordinary. The most exceptional thing you’ll encounter today is the friend or neighbor you encounter every day.

How much more so, then, the stranger? Perhaps that’s what the writer of Hebrews meant:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

To our cynical ears, it sounds like the writer wants us to invest in strangers only because one of them might pay off. But perhaps the writer means this: the people we already know are such extraordinary creatures that the only things more amazing are strangers—who are so incredible that some may even be angels.

How would it change your relationships if you saw people this way? If they are the holiest objects available to your senses, who would you invest more time getting to know? Who are some strangers, and what kind of hospitality could you show them? Who would you invite to dinner, or to church? Who would you help out in a fix?

(Cross-posted at the Desert Hills Presbyterian Church website.)

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