Love the Stranger

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Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.  Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name. He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen. (Deuteronomy 10:14-21) 

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Although Christians tend to think of the godly commandment to love as belonging to the Gospel and New Testament, there are certainly passages in the Old Testament, like the one above, in which Israel was commanded to love even strangers and sojourners.  Israel was commanded to welcome and love strangers and sojourners in their midst because they knew what it was like to be strangers and sojourners having lived as slaves in Egypt, sojourners in the desert for 40 years and even as they entered the promised land.  In ancient Israel the love for strangers, according to Deuteronomy, stems from the fear of God; however, in the New Testament the love of strangers stems from experiencing God’s love and from our own loving God.  St Anthony quoting the Apostle John says: “I do not fear God anymore: I love him, for ‘love casts out fear’ (1 Jn 4:18)” (GIVE ME A WORD, p 38).  It is not that in the Old Testament Israel wasn’t to love God, for the greatest commandment is exactly to love God. 

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:36-40)

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However, in the Old Testament the fear of the Lord was a major motivator, whereas the New Testament tends to focus on love: God’s for us and our for Him. In the desert fathers, Abba Isidore attempts to show the balance between love and fear when he says: “Persons under instruction must love those who are their instructors like fathers and fear them like rulers, neither diminishing fear through love nor obscuring love through fear” (GIVE ME A WORD, p 157).  Godly love and fear are interrelated, not polar opposites.  If we love God, then we fear disappointing God and we may fear God’s disappointment.  Love becomes the more important motivating factor because it reflects our new role as God’s children rather than our being merely God’s obedient slaves. 

Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

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You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:14-15)