Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How to treat the stranger

from w
Padre James Bhagwan often puts an article into the Fiji Times, and for Lent he has given a piece from Lenten studies organised by the Pacific Council of Churches for a gathering in Suva. I was interested to read one by Francois Pihaatae. PCC's general secretary - the part about  'the stranger' is relevant in today's world.

The biblical narrative of loving the stranger speaks to Israel's own experience: "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the hearts of the stranger — you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Ex 23:9). "When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The stranger who lives with you shall be treated like the native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Lev 19:33-4). In these two verses God is telling the people of Israel, "You know what it is like to be different, because there was a time when you, too, were persecuted for being different."

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Israel had to undergo exile and slavery before their birth as a nation. They had to learn from the inside and never lose the memory of what it feels like to be an outsider, a stranger (the ritual of the Passover every year is a reminder of this lesson). Moses had to undergo his own exile in Midian ("Gershom", the name of his first son, means "there I was a stranger". Only those who have felt the loneliness of being a stranger find it natural to identify with strangers. The Bible's single greatest and most revolutionary contribution to ethics/morality is this:

We encounter God in the face of a stranger.

No comments: