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Holy Week: When a stranger becomes a neighbor

By Nicole Martin
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What happens when a stranger becomes a neighbor?

When was the last time someone you didn’t know did something nice for you? It happened for me last week on my way to work. Someone paid for my coffee! I didn’t know the person, and they didn’t know me. But as I was pulling out money to pay for my order, they handed a card to the cashier and stated, “Her coffee’s on me.”

For moments afterward, I fought the flood of thoughts that came into my mind. Did I look desperate? Was there something about me that implied that I could not pay? With my frequent buyer card in hand, I knew I had it covered. My subtle pride almost prevented me from receiving this special gift.

I then began to think about the trade-offs. Was this some kind of gimmick to get me to do something in return? Would I be expected to repay the favor in some way?

Before I could say anything more, I looked up and my benefactor was gone. Nothing more was expected from me. After he left, I stood there realizing that I had just been blessed by a total stranger.

“Stranger Blessings,” as we’ll call them, are no stranger to God. In fact, the Bible is filled with examples that command us to love others even those we may not know. As they journeyed through the wilderness, God tells Moses to instruct the people to love their neighbors as themselves (Leviticus 19:18b). Jesus came back and restated this scripture, calling it the greatest of all the commandments (Mark 12:31).

Paul even came back with it, saying that the whole law is summarized by this one command (Galatians 5:14). Yet who exactly are we called to love and how?

During Holy Week, believers all over the world recommit themselves to Christ through the agony of the cross and the joy of his resurrection. Whether he was washing feet on Maundy Thursday or speaking life through his last words on Good Friday, Jesus modeled for us what true love really looks like.

When I reflect on my Stranger Blessing, I realize that this is the life every believer is called to live. More than just random acts of kindness on special occasions, we are called to share intentional acts of love every day of our lives. God’s love moves us to care for the poor, embrace those who are different, hold tight to those who grieve, and share with those who are just plain mean. With a true understanding of God’s work through Christ, we recognize that even the stranger is our neighbor. We are called to love and bless those we know and even extend that love to those we don’t.

As we culminate Holy Week and turn toward Resurrection, let Christ’s love radiate through you. Ask the question, “How can I bless my neighbor today?” and prepare to be surprised by what you may see. Perhaps you’ll make someone’s day by buying them coffee or lighten the load by carrying someone’s bag.

When a stranger becomes a neighbor, who knows? A neighbor just might become a friend.

The Rev. Nicole Martin is executive minister at The Park Church.
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