Yesterday I had lunch with a Muslim hospital and prison chaplain, at the Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship). You always get good food at a Gurudwara, but if your visit coincides with the birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak (as our visit did) you are in for a special treat. We talked about the experience of British Muslims, and also about mental health and the struggles both Muslim and Christian communities have with mental health issues. And we were continually and politely interrupted by our hosts – those who welcome made our conversation possible – asking if we would like more to eat or drink. Muslim-Sikh relations aren’t always great, not helped by the way in which the white boys carved-up the sub-continent; and it was a joy for me, a white boy, to be called ‘Bro’ – brother – by those who served us.
Jesus once told a story about a man who came to separate out his flock of sheep from the flock of goats belonging to someone else. In my country, breeds of sheep and goats look very different; but in Jesus’ country, they look alike to the untrained eye. But sheep know the voice of their own shepherd, right? Well, not in this story. In this story, some of the ‘sheep’ thought they were goats, and are surprised to discover who they actually belong to; and some of the ‘goats’ thought they were sheep, and are surprised to discover that they aren’t claimed by the shepherd.
On what basis are the ‘sheep’ identified? As those people who welcomed the stranger, who fed the hungry, who met the physical and emotional needs of the marginalised and the lost. For when they do so, whether they know it or not, they welcome Jesus.
So here was I, having arrived in this city ten days earlier, knowing almost no-one and almost no-where, sitting at table as if I were an honoured guest – which is precisely what I was. Quite unable to reciprocate.
Whatever else may be going on in the very different cultural and religious ways in which people yearn for and respond to God, Jesus was made welcome and served at the Gurudwara yesterday.