Sunday, January 29, 2017

Leviticus 19:34 -- On Strangers

"But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
Leviticus 19:34

Although God gives us the main commandments, to love God and to love others, sometimes he has to clarify, because we don't always get it at first.  This is a good reminder and clarification for us, that when God tells us to love our neighbors, he really means all of them. :)  It's similar to the story of the Good Samaritan.  In that story someone was in need, and no matter how otherwise cool/socially acceptable the people who walked by were, it was the foreigner/stranger that actually helped him (Samaritans at the time were in a next-door nation and practiced a somewhat different religion that emphasized different things and that was looked at as corrupt.  They were looked down on and ostracized.), and that was the person that Christ pointed out as being the neighbor (Luke 10:36-37). Christ taught us that when we choose to love and care for people, that is when we are following his commandments.

In this verse it mentions that we were strangers in Egypt.  That was a long time ago, and perhaps we don't remember it so well in our collective memory, or we have a hard time applying it to our personal lives.  I think though that we all can relate because we all have some experience with being strangers, whether positive or negative.  In Egypt at first, Joseph was a great leader and well loved, as were his family and people.  But when later leaders came that didn't remember Joseph, things got a lot worse.  We've all had experiences like that, where we suddenly aren't as welcome as we used to be, or we don't have the same influence or position of authority, or we are discriminated against because we are not part of the "in" group, for whatever reason.  And God is basically saying, listen... you know what this feels like.  Don't put others through that.

The stranger that dwells with us is mentioned here, but God still means everyone.  He is even more clear in Deuteronomy 10:17-19, telling us that God doesn't regard one person as better than another, and that he loves strangers.  He asks us specifically to "Love ye therefore the stranger."  He mentions in Numbers 9:14 that we should "have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land."  He is referring to the ordinance of the passover, but I'm guessing that it applies more generally as well--that's he's essentially asking us not to discriminate.  In Malachi 3:5 and 3 Nephi 24:5, God says that he will witness against people who "turn aside the stranger," among a list of several other things that are bad to do.

And if we still try to justify "who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29), perhaps the strongest message that Christ taught us about strangers is when he tells us that at the second coming he will have different things to say to the blessed and the cursed.  To the blessed he says, among other things, "I was a stranger, and ye took me in," whereas to the cursed he says "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in," with the general lesson for both cases being "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" and "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me" (Matthew 25:31-46).  In other words, whatever we do, or avoid doing, to our friends and neighbors (including strangers) is counted as though we did it, or avoiding doing it, for God.

Sometimes we resist loving strangers because we are afraid.  We're often taught when we're young of "stranger danger" in an effort to keep us safe.  And being safe is important, but perhaps we sometimes go too far in trying to protect ourselves that we forget to love.  God reminds us also that "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18).  We also might miss out on some amazing experiences: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2).

Today, let's be mindful of strangers.  And let's remember that they are our brothers and sisters, beloved of God.  Let's be kind, and loving, and remember that we are strangers to others.  If we can treat each other well, despite our individual strangeness, perhaps we can break the cycle of hatred that sometimes seems to be all around us.  

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