While thinking about what to write today, a tale about a man attending a certain church for the first time came to mind.

He had spruced himself up as well as he could that Sunday morning. His shirt with frayed collar and a small, neatly mended patch beside the second button was clean; indeed, washed so many times, it was now only a pale reminder of blue plaid. His hair needed trimming but had been carefully combed and complemented his rugged features. Jeans and cowboy boots suggested he had signed on to work at the nearby cattle ranch.

He entered the church, walked down the side aisle, and slid into a pew. No one said hello or made an effort to greet him. Some even moved away from the stranger. After the final hymn, he followed the parishioners as they exited the sanctuary and greeted the pastor. He approached the clergyman and extended his hand. The minister took his hand in both of his, welcomed him to the church and suggested softly,

“Perhaps you may want to pray and consider proper attire for Sunday service.”

The following Sunday, when the ranch hand returned to the church, dressed the same as before, the minister asked him if he had taken his advice.

“Why, yes, I did.” The young man looked into the preacher’s eyes and smiled. “I did ask Him. He told me He had no idea what I should wear to your church. He said He’s never been here.”

There’s a lot to think about in that story; sincerity, hypocrisy, values, and social customs to name a few. But it occurs to me that things are rarely what they seem on the outside. The young man in the story, apparently poor from a worldly perspective, may very well be far richer spiritually than the well-dressed churchgoers or the pompous preacher.

I think a stranger is like an unwrapped package. You will never know that person until you take the time get close enough so he or she will let you into their world – and what blessings you may find!

The disciples were walking along the road to Emmaus, discussing the horrendous death their Master had just endured, when a stranger joined them. As they walked along, they informed the man about their loss and eventually invited him dinner. It wasn’t until the stranger broke bread with them that they realized that, deceived by appearances, they had shared the day with their beloved Jesus.

It reminds me that I should look around carefully and expectantly as I journey down life’s road. People unlike myself, be they sociologically, financially, politically, racial, ethnically, or spiritually different, share the image of God. He treasures them and so should I.

With all the hate crimes and polarization in our nation today, perhaps it is time to love others, those not in our circle or group, outrageously—just as God loves them.

Imago Dei