Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel is a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. In his book The Town Beyond the Wall, Wiesel has a character named Michael who has been in prison for a long, long time. At one point, Michael is talking to a new prisoner who has great faith. The new fellow asks Michael how he has been able to stay sane in prison, despite such long and unrelenting abuse, and Michael begins to tell him about a friend who has helped him survive by listening to his fears and comforting him.
As they talk, Michael, who is confirmed atheist, sees this knowing gleam in the new prisoner’s eye and he screams at him, “Don’t try and tell me that God sent this friend to be with me in prison.”
“No,” says the believer, “I would never tell you that. My God doesn’t send people to prison, but my God comes there to be with them.”
That is what Jesus tried to tell us. When life shuts us out, God doesn’t send someone to help us, but comes to us there making it a holy place. God almost always come to us in the skin of someone who cares.
God wears the most interesting disguises, and the Bible says we never know when we are welcoming angels without even knowing. So we had better treat everyone with dignity and hospitality.
I’m afraid that the problem today is heaven is suffering a serious shortage of skin. There are not enough people willing to be outsiders for God to be able to go to all those outside the camp who are in need.
Those of us who once felt like outsiders and, perhaps, on some level still do are called to embrace that experience and let it teach us to authentically care, give, serve; let it teach us to go to those who are outside, not as one who condescends to serve, but as a fellow outsider like Jesus.
The miracle is that, as we go outside the camp, we are going to the place we are most likely to find God, the place where we are most likely to find the transformational, spiritual connection with life for which we long.
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renenwal