See Jesus in those you meet

By Vinal Van Benthem | November 20, 2014

“And now you know … the rest of the story.” I remember waiting with eager anticipation for the surprise ending to Paul Harvey’s stories — the young immigrant who becomes a great inventor, the self-educated boy who grows into a statesman, the widow who turns her husband’s company around. Paul Harvey reminded us that things are not always what they seem.

Patsy grew up in a blue collar neighborhood on the north side. Many of the people in her neighborhood were recent immigrants from Germany. Their children went to Patsy’s school and it was up to the sisters to help them find their way in a strange country where everyone spoke a different language. Patsy was a bright child and even though she spoke no German, Sister often asked her to take one of the new girls under her wing. Patsy would walk the child to class and show her where to put her coat. She would sit with her in the lunchroom and try to explain peanut butter to her. At recess she would invite the new girl to play, teaching her to count in English as they bounced a rubber ball or skipped through crossed jump ropes.

Someday, the “new girls” would tell their own children about the sisters, and about Patsy, who had welcomed them when they were strangers, introducing them to new tastes and smells, helping them to learn a new language. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me …”

Certainly Patsy would never have recognized herself in Matthew’s words. But the sisters knew.

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink; when did we see you a stranger and welcome you …?” Every time you invited the stranger to join you at table, every time you released the captive from the prison of voicelessness. Did Patsy know? Probably not. Most of us don’t know Jesus when we see him. Perhaps, if we did, we would treat the stranger differently. Perhaps, if we knew … the rest of the story.

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.

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