As I read this, I was reminded of an earlier story from this spring wherein it had been confirmed that for the last twenty one years, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has been secretly serving as a co-pilot for twice weekly domestic flights for KLM airlines. This announcement confirmed the suspicions of many Dutch passengers who had thought that the person speaking to them and giving them regular updates on weather and arrival times over the intercom sounded very familiar.
But each of these incidents barely compares with the experiences of so many of Jordan’s citizens. According to various sources, on several occasions, over the past couple of decades, their king, Abdullah II, has made a habit of disguising himself and mingling with his subjects unannounced. His rationale for this rather unorthodox approach is said to be that he wishes to better understand and serve his people.
Accordingly, he has shown up in disguise on numerous occasions. These include taking the character of an ordinary old Arab man, with a fake white beard, wearing the traditional Jordanian kufiah, and the Arabic white dress. In this guise, the king walked around a couple of government buildings without security and was not even noticed. He spent much of the time engaging people in conversation and listening to their point of view.
In a similar stunt, he had previously disguised himself as a different old man while visiting a hospital. Yet another time, he circulated around the capital city of Amman posing as a taxicab driver. And once, he even passed himself off as a television reporter trying to cover a story at a duty-free shop.
According to news reports, when asked about his exploits, he responded by saying, "I think that being in disguise and going around as a normal civilian to listen to their problems and know more about their needs is a good thing."
Of course, it goes without saying that Jordanian government employees are taking few chances these days. It is reported that they have started to spend a good deal of time looking at people's faces, fearing they could meet the king in disguise.
All of this reminds me of a book that was required reading back when I was in seminary. First published in 1896, Charles Sheldon’s classic work titled In his Steps: What would Jesus Do? has sold over thirty million copies.
Wikipedia succinctly summarizes the plot of this famous, though never copyrighted book:
The novel begins on a Friday morning when a man out of work (later identified as Jack Manning) appears at the front door of Rev. Henry Maxwell while the latter is preparing for that Sunday’s upcoming sermon. Maxwell listens to the man’s helpless plea briefly before brushing him away and closing the door. The same man appears in church at the end of the Sunday sermon, walks up to “the open space in front of the pulpit,” and faces the people. No one stops him. He quietly but frankly confronts the congregation—“I’m not complaining; just stating facts.”—about their compassion, or apathetic lack thereof, for the jobless like him in Raymond. Upon finishing his address to the congregation, he collapses, and dies a few days later.
That next Sunday, Rev. Henry Maxwell, deeply moved by the events of the past week, presents a challenge to his congregation: “Do not do anything without first asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’” This challenge is the theme of the novel and is the driving force of the plot. From this point on, the rest of the novel consists of certain episodes that focus on individual characters as their lives are transformed by the challenge.
Few of us may ever meet earthly kings or presidents. But in the New Testament Book of Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 2, the Bible does contain this caution: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
More to the point, as is recorded in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25, verse 31-46), Jesus once shared the following admonition with His disciples:
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Sheldon was right. We would do well to ask ourselves in each and every situation: “Just what would Jesus do?!” For we never really know just who is there when we meet a stranger!