The Stranger

14 April 2023

Creation suffers the Passion of its Creator. The sun hides its rays. The earth quakes and the veil of the temple is rent in two ‘from top to bottom’ (Matth.. 27, 51). The Savior is put to death and Joseph from Arimathea, a secret disciple of Christ, presents himself to Pilate to request the dead body of his teacher:

‘Give me this stranger’, he cried, ‘who, from infancy has sojourned as a stranger. Give me this stranger whom his own race hated and put to death as a stranger’.

Christ’s secret disciple reveals the secret name of his teacher, the name that accompanied him throughout his life, from infancy to his death on the cross: ‘Stranger’.

When he was born in Bethlehem, his mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room at the inn (see Luke 2, 7): he was a stranger.

Christ, the Son and Word of God, the Savior of the world, came and lived in the world as a homeless person, as ‘a stranger from infancy’ as the definitive ‘stranger’.

The maker of the world and the creator of humankind ‘came into his home* and his own people  did not receive him’ (Jn. 1, 11). He visited his own kin and they didn’t welcome him. They treated him as a stranger, they envied him, hated him, mocked him and put him to death.

It’s a bitter thing to live in a foreign country somewhere, as a stranger. It’s even worse, though, to live in your own homeland as a homeless stranger. To have your own people, your own children look askance at you, with deadly hatred.

This was the kind of exile God experienced when he came and lived as a human person in the world. This foreignness stamped the whole of Christ’s life on earth. The foreignness which kept from him even his closest disciples. Implacable foreignness.

And now, after his crucifixion and murder, Joseph ‘the noble councilor from Arimathea (Mark, 15, 43) comes and asks Pilate for permission to take the dead body of this stranger: ‘Give me this stranger that I may hide in the tomb him who, as a stranger has nowhere to incline his head’.

‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to incline his head’, the Stranger said to one of the Pharisees who had asked to follow him.(Matth. 8, 19-20; Luke 9, 57-58).

In the end, a place to incline his head was given to this Stranger by the scribes and Pharisees: he was given the Cross. ‘Inclining his head, he gave up his spirit’. (Jn. 19, 30).

This Stranger, who knew how to lodge ‘the poor and the strangers’ was taken from Pilate by Joseph to be lodged in his grave. He took and placed ‘in his new tomb’ (Math. 27, 60) him ‘who gives to all eternal life and great mercy’.

‘But as many as received him, to them he gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe in his name’ (Jn. 1, 12).

Joseph, who took the body of Christ and lodged it in the tomb and, indeed, all who accept him and believe in his name have the ‘authority’, the right, to become children of God, gods by grace. They acquire ‘eternal life and great mercy’.

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (Jn. 12, 24).

The wheat which fell into the ground and died, the living bread which came down from heaven, was offered ‘for the life of the world’ (Jn. 6, 35-41) and bore much fruit. It produced a multitude of people who became estranged from the world and lived in the world as lights of the world.

Many people put the world to death, so that they might live. Christ voluntarily submitted to death so that the world might live.

* The Greek expression meaning, literally, ‘his own’ was an idiom meaning ‘home’, cf. John 19, 27.