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What does it mean to love a stranger?

             Have you ever been in someone’s home and felt unwelcome?  Have you ever been brand new to a city or place and treated like an absolute stranger.  Not the most edifying feeling in the world.  You stick out like a sore thumb.  You feel out of place- like you don’t belong.  Sometimes it feels like everyone is watching you..... looking for the next thing you do that is out of the ordinary.  Think for a moment about the root of the word ‘stranger’:  Strange.  According to the dictionary part of its meaning is to be unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling or hard to understand.  Honestly, by this definition I don’t want to ever be a stranger.  More importantly with this in mind, I don’t want to be the cause of someone else feeling this way either.  Jim Morrison of “The Doors” was so articulate when he sang “People are strange, when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone”.  In fact the entire song is pretty profound actually. 

The apostle Paul in writing a letter to Titus about setting the church leadership in order suggests that leaders in the church must be ‘hospitable’.  Now you may or may not know this, but I am very much a word guy-  I like to have the right word for the right situation or I am extremely annoyed.  So here I was looking at Titus 1:8, where Paul makes this statement about church leaders being hospitable and I want to know what that means; so of course I looked up the definition.  For most of us when we think hospitable the first word that comes to mind is hospitality which means to receive guests with warmth and generosity; this is only a partial definition however.  It also means to receive strangers with the same type of warmth and generosity.  Again… back to strangers.  More interesting is the biblical Greek word used by Paul in Titus 1:8: φιλοξενον. It is rooted in the Greek verb used to describe the love between siblings  (φιλεω) and the Greek word for stranger (ξενος).  Quite literally the apostle Paul is calling on church leaders (and I would suggest by extension the congregation as well) to be lovers of strangers; to basically engage strangers with the same type of love that you would show your brother or sister.  This does beg the question:  How do we do that?

  As I began to ask God what this looked like, he reminded me of the story we have come to know as “the Good Samaritan”.  Remember that the greater context of this parable was to answer the question “Who is my neighbour”.  It was a question that was asked by a man seeking to justify his own actions in terms of obedience to the law.  Jesus tells a story about a man making a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Along the road the man is beaten, robbed and left for dead.  Who will come and bless this stranger?  Jesus choice of characters is very telling:  First a priest- then a levite.  These two both pass by the man dying along the roadside and just walk on by on.... on the other side of the road.  Two people from the religious class and order (those who knew that they are to reach out and show the love of God) completely ignore the dying man.  Jesus next choice of character is even more unusual and striking:  A Samaritan.  Now remember Jesus was telling this story to his own people- Jews.  Jews didn’t like Samaritans…. at all.  This was the moment when all his listeners drew in a sharp breath “did he just say SAMARITAN?”  Ya… he did.  Jesus shocked them by suggesting that a person of a very unsavoury nature had actually stopped to help this man/stranger dying in the road.  A Samaritan- a quasi Jew at best was treating a stranger like a friend or family member, reaching out in unconditional love.  The text says he had compassion on him.  He picked him up, bandaged his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him to an Inn where the man could convalesce- promising the innkeeper that he would pay for all of his additional expenses in recovery.  WHOA!!!! Why would he do this?  The text actually doesn’t say and in all honesty I am not sure it has to.  The point of all of it is this:  Whose is your neighbour? The person who lives next door?  You brother or sister or any other family member?  These are all givens.  The true test is the stranger.

 

Mood: contemplative
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