The Rich Ruler Considers the Value of Poverty

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world;

but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.   (1 Timothy 6:6-11)

In Luke 18:18-27, we are given a record of a conversation between a wealthy man who also had some political influence and Jesus Christ.  It is a rare Gospel lesson in that it does directly mention the man’s inner, emotional reaction to a teaching of Christ.

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

In Luke’s version of this story, we are told that the rich man became very sorrowful when told to give away his wealth.  We are not told whether he ever acted upon what Jesus told him.  The man in Luke’s Gospel is not referenced again.  We can surmise based on the other Gospel versions of the narrative (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31) that the man walked away from Christ grieving.  Mark additionally notes that Jesus  actually loved the man for keeping the commandments and spoke to him out of love for him.  Be that as it may, the man still walks away from Christ.  Luke, however, does not have the man walk away from Christ.  Whatever the man’s inner grief was in thinking about giving up his wealth, we aren’t told what he actually did.   Did this rich man actually think about the value of poverty or the spiritual bankruptcy of wealth?  Luke does not tell us.  It is possible the man grieved but then did what Christ directed him to do.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann at one point in his writings considers the phrase from this Gospel lesson, “It is difficult for the rich…”

“It is quite obvious that at the center of Christianity is the renunciation of wealth, any wealth. The beauty of poverty!–there is also, of course, the ugliness of poverty, but there is beauty. Christianity is enlightened only by humility, by an impoverished heart. Poverty does not consist always of lacking something–that is ugliness–but in being content with what there is.”   (The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, p. 50)

The rich ruler of the Gospel lesson was not sure he could be content with having nothing.  His contentment was based on his wealth.  His spiritual dilemma was that in being told to give away his possessions, he thought this was giving away his contentment and his self worth.  Without his wealth, he couldn’t see himself as having any value.

If The Rich and Powerful Were Like God

In election campaigns, it is often the rich who run for office, and they often claim they will do things that will favor the working poor.  Certainly a concern for the poor is something America learned through Christianity.  Who among the rich and powerful will most help the poor is always part of the election debate.   Historian Peter Brown summing up Christian attitudes of leaders for the poor in the later Roman Empire offers a different way to measure the concern of the rich and powerful for the working poor.  Christianity certainly proclaims and believes that God loves the poor, and that we are to imitate Christ.  So what if the rich and powerful would imitate God, what would their concern for the poor then look like?  Brown answers:

“If the rich and powerful were ‘like God’ to the poor, then they must learn to be like a God who had opened himself up entirely to human suffering and who was ‘naturally’ capable of compassion for fellow human beings. They must show the same degree of condescension and of fellow feeling for the poor.” (Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, p 104)

To imitate God for Christians means not simply to reach down to the poor and drop a coin in the beggar’s basket.  It means to reach down to the poor and embrace them and lift them up as a equal, to see in them the image of God and to live with and for them.

Wealth Which Enslaves

“Material wealth enslaves us, sharpening self-interest, corroding the heart, overwhelming us with anxiety and fear; like an insatiable demon, it demands sacrifice. Instead of serving us, it makes us serve it. Cannot the same be said of the treasures of health, strength, youth, beauty, talent? Do not they likewise confirm in our pride and constrain the heart, leading it away from God? Yes, truly: ‘Blessed are the poor’ in the world’s goods. How easily they gain evangelical lightness of spirit and freedom of earthly fetters; but blessed also are those who are without health and youth (for ‘he who suffers in the flesh ceases to sin’). Blessed the ugly, the ungifted, the unlucky – they are free of the chief enemy, pride – for they have nothing to be proud of. But what are we to do if God has granted us this or that earthly gift?  Is it possible that we shall not be saved until we are divested of it? We may keep (but not for ourselves) our riches and still be saved, but we must be interiorly free of them; we must tear our heart from them, hold our treasures as if we did not hold them; possess them, but not let them possess us; lay them at Christ’s feet and serve Him through them.” (Father Yelchaninov in A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, pp 439-440)


Wealth and Being Human

While many Americans assume that “pursuit of happiness” will involve some kind of prosperity or at least wealth sufficient to enable the pursuit of  happiness, Christians in antiquity did not assume that wealth is always identified with happiness or blessing from God.  In fact many Christian saints thought of wealth as a kind of Ouroboros, the snake consuming it’s own tail.  The pursuit of wealth can become all consuming, never satiating one’s greed but always enflaming it.  While some have good intentions about what they would do if they had a lot of money, sometimes the use of the money gets forgotten  as one pursues ever more of what one already has.  My father, a high school drop out and a factory worker, once told me that his observation in life was that no matter income level a person was at from the least paid janitor to the high paid executive, everyone seemed to imagine that if only they had 10% more income they would be satisfied.  But as he observed no matter how far up that income ladder someone moved, they continued to desire that 10% more.

 The New Testament does not present to us that more wealth would make a better world – increasing wealth does not get us closer to the kingdom of heaven or make it more possible to be a Christian.  In fact the New Testament shows Christ not just indifferent to wealth but even dubious of its goodness (Mark 4:18-19; Luke 18:24-25).  “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

So St. Nikolai Velimirovic (d. 1956AD) teaches:

“Wealth is not evil in itself, as nothing that God has created is evil in itself, but men’s bondage to riches, lands, and possessions is evil; and the destructive passions that riches empower and invoke, such as adultery, gluttony, drunkenness, miserliness, boastfulness, self-praise, vanity, pride, scornfulness, and denigration of the poor, forgetfulness of God and so on ad infinitum, are evil. Few are there who have the strength to resist the temptation of riches and to be in control of their wealth, not becoming its servants and slaves. […]   God would be able, in the twinkling of an eye, to make all men equal in wealth, but that would be sheer folly. In that case, men would become totally independent of one another. Who would then be saved? How could anyone be saved? For men are saved through their dependence on one another. The rich depend on the poor, and the poor on the rich; the learned depend on the ignorant, and the ignorant on the learned; the healthy depend on the sick, and the sick on the healthy. Material sacrifice is repaid in spiritual currency. The spiritual sacrifice made by the learned is repaid in material currency by the ignorant. The physical service given by the healthy is repaid in spiritual currency by the sick, and vice versa: the spiritual service of the sick (that reminds men of God and of Judgement) is repaid by the physical service of the healthy.” (Homilies, pp 123-124)

No doubt many of us would be willing to risk being slaves to wealth.  And St. Nikolai’s logic might appear strange to us – God in his wisdom does not give wealth to everyone.  Why?   It is wealth inequality which teaches us to love and value others different from us.  humans need to have some sense of dependency on each other or they will treat all other life as not very valuable and may try to do away with others.  St. Nikolai’s logic is that a world in which everyone is rich would be a world in which no one would know how to love or show mercy on others.  We would have no need for others and they would have no need for us.  It would be the perfect world for attempting to destroy all those you don’t need – a world in which euthanasia and abortion abound.


The Heresy of God and Mammon

This is the 4th blog in this series considering the book BAD RELIGION: HOW WE BECAME A NATION OF HERETICS   by Ross Douthat.  The first blog is A Recent History of American Heresy.  The previous blog is Some More American Heresies.

Perhaps the most obvious arena in which American Christians have had a different attitude than Christians historically have had is in relation to wealth.  Christ, the itinerant preacher, Himself lived a rather impoverished life and never pursued wealth.  He taught that one cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:19-34; Luke 16:13-31).   The New Testament has several warnings and woes for those who are rich or who pursue wealth (for examples, see Luke 6:20-25; 1 Timothy 6:9-10; James 1:10-11).   And the Epistle of James portrays the rich as those who persecute the Christians and who face a wrathful judgment from God (James 2:6-7; 5:1-6).

Parable of the rich man and Lazarus

Some may argue that the New Testament’s negative attitude toward wealth may have something to do with how unevenly it was distributed in the ancient world and how those with wealth may have persecuted the Christians.  America, on the other hand, they might argue, has been committed to a broader distribution of wealth (even if it only trickles down!).  America has economically grown because of its banking policies including its lending policies and has created a middle class who share in the benefits of the country’s wealth.  As a nation America has none of the reservations about wealth that we find in the authors of the New Testament.

Douthat in his book describes one of the most prominent heresies active in American religion today as the “prosperity Gospel”,  the theology of “God and Mammon”  which says you don’t have to choose between the two masters, but can in fact serve them both (or perhaps in American thinking, make them both serve you!).  America has embraced completely prosperity as a sign of God’s blessings and has ignored almost completely sins and temptations that the Bible associates with wealth including greed and idolatry (Colossians 3:5) and that prosperity (Mammon) is competing with God for out loyalty.

“The prosperity gospel … is a message that’s tailored less to the very rich than to the middle and working classes—to people who are hardworking but financially insecure, who feel that they have to think about money all the time because they’re trying to make more of it, and who want to be reassured that their striving is in accordance with God’s plan rather than a threat to their salvation.  … is just as likely to involve ministers who prosper by flattering their upwardly mobile, American Dreaming congregations, telling them to keep on striving and praying, because God wants them to keep up with the Joneses next door.”   (p 190)

While indeed wealth can be a blessing, it can also be a temptation, and it is possible for a man to lose his soul and gain the world (Luke 9:23-27; Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-38).  Wealth comes for Christians with both spiritual risk and responsibility.  The American Christian embrace of wealth is often completely uncritical and seems to assume wealth can only be a good.   Americans can be very thankful for their prosperity, but when wealth is governed by selfish, self-centered behavior it becomes wanton and destructive.

“This is where the union of God and Mammon goes astray, ultimately: it succumbs to a naiveté about how riches are often accumulated and about the dark pull that money can exert over the human heart.  And its sunny boosterism leads believers into temptation, equipping them for success without preparing them for setbacks—which in turn makes failure all the more devastating when it finally, inevitably arrives.”  (p 207)

judas betrays Christ

Whereas in early Christianity, greed was one of the seven deadly sins, in America greed is often glossed over or given more euphemistic titles of blessings, prosperity and wealth.  Greed was seen as a deadly passion in Orthodox writings, but it becomes fashionable and desirable in American spiritual parlance.  For Americans there seems to be little sense that enough is enough.  And certainly wealth does not automatically produce virtue in anybody.  Rather, wealth is no cure for greed,  and can lead to jealousy, fear, hyper-vigilance and making self-preservation at all costs to be the greatest virtue.  In Orthodox Holy Week hymns it is the betrayer Judas Iscariot who is said to be a lover of money.  He is the poster child for the notion that you cannot serve God and Mammon.

Douthat also sees the embrace of wealth by Christians to have another temptation:  the idea that wealth can solve all the world’s problems.  This he suspects is what happens to liberal Christianity’s embrace of taxes and big government:  money leads to utopian ideals.

“But like many forms of liberal Christianity, the marriage of God and Mammon half-expects somehow to undo the Fall, through the beneficence of Providence and the magic of the free market.  In its emphasis on the virtues of prosperity, it risks losing something essential to Christianity—skipping on to Easter, you might say, without lingering at the foot of the cross. . . .  Christianity risks becoming an appendage to Americanism—a useful metaphysical thread for a capitalist society’s social fabric, but a faith that’s bound, perhaps fatally to the rise and fall of the gross domestic product.”  (p 205)

Wealth does come with some blessings.  Christians welcomed the blessings as they turned to building churches and engaging in mission and ministry throughout the world.  Douthat’s concern is that prosperity can blind us to its temptations and even to understanding what is important, for fund raising can become a goal in itself by which we measure the success of the Church.  Yet Christ never established fund raising as a measure of Christian success.

“[The prosperity Gospel] is particularly well suited to successful church-building, where it translated into what the sociologist Michael Hamilton has memorably described as a theology of ‘more money, more ministry.’  … but from post-World War II era onward…. a more entrepreneurial approach.  As Hamilton writes, ‘leaders of evangelical organizations scrambled to lay claim to as much of the new American wealth as they could’ – not for their own enrichment (or not always), but for the sake of spreading the Gospel.”    (p 197)

The Church  thus becomes more and more shaped by the methods, structures and models of American business, and becomes measured by those same standards as well.  Success becomes numbers and especially financial success becomes the sole measure of whether God is blessing something.

“The one who pursues money will be led astray by it.”  (Sirach 31:5)

There is much wisdom in the adage that says, “Money is a good servant but a bad master.”   I interpret Douthat to be wondering aloud whether money is the servant or has become the master in much of American religion especially in those involved in the media market.

Douthat expresses another concern:

“… the marriage of god and Mammon is nothing more than Social Darwinism with a religious face.”  (p 203)

Survival of the fittest in the religious world: those survive that have or can obtain money.  ‘Thems that have, get more.’   ‘The oppressed are also to blame for their own condition.’   But in that formula, where is Christ the impoverished preacher of Galilee and where is the Gospel which calls us to deny ourselves in order to follow Christ?

Then Jesus said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”


They answered, “The emperor’s.”

Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”   (Mark 12:16-17)

Next:   Narcissism and the God Within

Great Lent, Poverty and Riches

As we enter the final week of Great Lent, hymns from the Vespers for the 5th Sunday evening of Lent draw our attention to the Gospel Lesson of the impoverished Lazarus and the anonymous rich man (Luke 16:19-31).  The hymns play on the various ways the words ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ can be used with differing meanings depending on what they are modifying.








Christ as God’s Son is rich (2 Corinthians 8:9),  yet in the incarnation impoverishes Himself (Philippians 2:5-11) by emptying Himself to become a servant to humanity.  We are according to the hymn to be rich in illumination, immortality and virtues.  The pleasures of this world (which we so energetically pursue) actually impoverish us, and so we should be seeking deliverance from them!  The pleasures of this world never truly satisfy; they don’t enirch us but actually only serve to inflame our appetites creating a craving for more.  Insatiable appetite leads us to consume all the more, to grasp for more, demand more and ever increases our greed and lust – ultimately such a lifestyle leads us away from love, away from God and to Hell itself.









Note in the hymn Lazarus is not praised for his poverty, nor is the rich man condemned for his wealth.  Lazarus is upheld as a model of endurance and being long-suffering.  He is a patient man, and a man of hope who looks for mercy from others.  The rich man on the other hand is condemned for his cruelty and hatred, vices not actually mentioned in the Gospel lesson but are derived as the root cause of his apathy for and indifference toward the suffering of Lazarus.   Wealth and poverty are not in themselves vice and virtue.  The issue is our disposition of heart.  One can be financially successful and prosperous but be impoverished as a human being created in God’s image and likeness.  The American pursuit of success and prosperity does not translate into godly virtue automatically!  We have to choose to love others, to be compassionate, merciful, charitable, generous and kind.  Wealth does not automatically yield virtue, nor does poverty mean an absence of virtue.

Charity in the Christmas Holiday Season

“We must always make sermons about almsgiving,

because we, too, have much need of this mercy issuing from the Master who created us,

but especially during the present season when the frost is severe.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom on Repentance and Almsgiving, pg. 131)

The Least of Christ’s Brothers and Sisters

Matthew 25:31-46

The Lord told this parable:  “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


Of course, the king in this story, The Son of Man, is Christ himself.  He identifies himself first of all with the poor, those who lack basic necessities like food, drink, clothing, and shelter.  He dwells in them, so that those who serve them are actually serving him.  Though they have borne great shame in human society, he shares with them his immeasurable dignity.  In this way he restores to them the royalty of the image of God.  .  .  .     Surely, Christ’s act of identification and union with them includes all who are marginalized in the ancient society such as women, the disabled, the homeless, and slaves; it includes all who are marginalized today.  Astonishingly, in the story he does not ask them to do anything to merit such union with him.  He simply loves them and counts them as his own family.  He does not even have to say that they are blessed by the Father and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them since before the world’s creation.  This reality is already established and he takes it as given.     (Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation, pg 192)


Guard by every means your heart, or the sincerity of your heart, your capability of sympathising with your neighbours in their joys and sorrows, and avoid, as you would avoid mortal poison, any indifference and coldness to people’s various misfortunes, sicknesses, and needs:  for it is by sympathy, especially active sympathy, that the love and goodness of the Christian are revealed, and in love the whole law is contained, whilst, on the contrary, our selfishness, malice, malevolence, and envy are revealed by a want of sympathy.  Thus, pray for all those for whom the Church orders you to pray, or, pray willingly for others, as you would pray for yourself, and do not relax in sincerity, do not lose inward respect for the person or persons for whom you pray; do not allow the holy fire of love to be extinguished, or your light darkened; do not despond at the wiles of the enemy, undermining your heart and striving to implant in your heart aversion to all, to take away from your lips the prayer of others which is the best proof of evangelical love for our brethren.    (St John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pg 161)


What is the counsel of the Master? ‘Lend to those from whom you do not hope to receive in return.’ [ … ] Whenever you have the intention of providing for a poor man for the Lord’s sake, the same if both a gift and a loan, a gift because of the expectation of no repayment, but a loan because of the great gift of the Master who pays in his place, and who, receiving trifling things through a poor man, will give great things in return for them.  ‘He that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to God.’  Do you not wish to have the Lord of the universe answerable to you for payment? [ … ] …accept God as surety for the poor.    (St Basil, trans Sr Agnes Clare Way, CDP, St. Basil: Exegetic Homilies, Fathers of the Church Volume 46, pg 190)

Chri$tma$ $hopping for Chri$tian$


Mall of America

In America the “Christmas season” begins with consumer shopping – Black Friday and Cyber Monday.   The news about the season and throughout the season is all about how much money people are spending, borrowing, consuming and how happy or worried retailers are.

St. John Chrysostom writing in 387AD makes his own interesting comparisons and analogies of Christian economics and consumerism when he talks about the Christian life in terms of buying and selling.  For Chrysostom Christian consumerism and “retail trade” however have to do with giving charitably to the poor which according to the scriptures makes God a debtor to us.  Writing about repentance, Chrysostom says on the final Judgment Day, we will not be able to bribe God to give us a favorable judgment – His judgment will be just.  But then St. John mentions that we improve our standing before God through financial means – giving to the poor and needy.

“The same with God: you cannot persuade the Judge during the time of the tribunal. … He is not corrupted by money; and His righteous judgment is awesome and unpersuadable.  Here, therefore, let us beg and win Him over; here, with all our strength, let us frequently supplicate Him; but not with money. Or, better yet, to tell the truth, the Lover of Man is persuaded with money, although He does not accept it Himself but through the poor.  Give money to the poor and you have appeased the Judge.  And I say these things out of concern for you, because repentance without almsgiving is a corpse and is without wings.  Repentance cannot fly high without the wing of almsgiving. …  Today, therefore, the marketplace of almsgiving is open, because we see the captives and the poor; we see all who walk around in the marketplace; we see those who cry out; we see those who weep; we see those who sigh.  Before us is a marvelous festival, and the festival has no other purpose, and the merchant has no other thought, than to purchase the merchandise cheaply and to sell it expensively.  Is this not the purpose of every merchant?  …

God has such a festival before us; buy righteousness at a small price so you can resell it in the future at a great price, if someone can call repayment retail-trade.  Here, righteousness is purchased at a small price, with one insignificant morsel of bread, with a cheap piece of clothing, with a glass of cold water.  ‘He who gives one glass of cold water, truly I say to you,’ says the Teacher of spiritual commerce, ‘will not lose his reward’ (Mt 10:42).  One glass of cold water brings a reward; clothes and money, which are given for beneficence, do not grant a reward?  On the contrary, they bring a reward and, indeed, a big one.  Therefore, why did He call to mind a glass of cold water?  Almsgiving, He says, costs nothing; for cold water you neither spend firewood nor consume anything else.  If beneficence has such grace wherever the gift is inexpensive, how great a reward should someone expect from the Righteous Judge, when He gives clothes abundantly, when He provides with money, when He gives other surplus goods?  As long as the virtues are found before us and are sold cheaply, let us take form the Munificent One, let us grasp, let us purchase.  ‘You who thirst,’ He says, ‘Come to the water; and all who do not have money, go and purchase’ (Is 55:1).  As long as the festival lasts, let us buy alms, or, better yet, let us purchase salvation through almsgiving.  You clothe Christ when you clothe the poor.  … Whoever has mercy upon the poor lends to God.  Let us lend to God almsgiving so we may receive from Him clemency in exchange.  Oh, how wise is this statement! ‘Whoever has mercy upon the poor lends to God’ (Prv 19:17).  … Since God borrows from us, then, He is our debtor.  How do you want to have Him, as a judge or debtor?  The debtor is ashamed before his lender; the judge does not put to shame the one who borrows.”   (ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING, pp 103-105)

St. John Chrysostom

Chrysostom might agree that Christmas is an excellent shopping season for Christians – time to purchase gifts for the poor and needy while simultaneously buying favor with God.  He sees the marketplace as a festival – it is of course filled with poor, the needy and the destitute – but what we should have eyes to see is how it is through these same folk that we make God our debtor through charitable giving; each opportunity to give charitably thus adds to the festival of salvation – that heavenly banquet to which we have been invited.

Strangers & Neighbors: Christian Thoughts on Thanksgiving (1989)

A sermon from November 12, 1989

Text:   Luke 10:25-37  (The Good Samaritan)

Puritans arrive at Plymouth Rock

Each November as we celebrate Thanksgiving we are also asked to especially remember the many people throughout our country and world who are suffering from poverty or from some natural disaster. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is an appropriate theme for promoting charitable giving.

I want to remind you this morning of the biblical notion of neighbor and of stranger.

In the bible, the words stranger and neighbor occur almost 260 times! These two terms are both important in understanding God’s expectations of you and I. God has commanded us to be kind, generous, forgiving, loving of our neighbors. God also commanded us to be patient, kind and fair to strangers.

God taught us in the Old Testament that the stranger is to be treated as good as we treat the orphans and widows. We are to protect strangers and provide for them. We are forbidden to ever mistreat any stranger. For God Himself loves the stranger, both protecting the stranger from harm and providing him with food and clothing (Deut 10:17-18). And God reminds us that “You shall not mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). It is precisely because we are and have been strangers on this earth that we can sympathize with every stranger we meet. We learn from the scriptures that the feeling of being a stranger is in fact a spiritual state which we sing about at each funeral service.

(Psalms 119:19) ” I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me. ” We all need to remember the fact that our spiritual sojourn on earth from the time of the Old Testament has been one of exile. We have been in search of our true home and have often found this world to be hostile, even though this is God’s creation and we are God’s chosen people. We Christians are not to forget that are only true motherland is the Kingdom of God.

Pocohantas saves John Smith

So, for us being a stranger is a spiritual state. It is our true status on earth. And it is because we ourselves know what it is like to be a stranger among other people, that God has commanded us to love and care for other strangers that we meet. In fact in Leviticus 25:35, God commands us to help any of our brothers and sisters who become poor just like we help and love the stranger. The way in which we care for the stranger is to be for us the model in dealing with our neighbor!

So, we are to love the stranger in the same way that God loves the stranger. This was a teaching of God set down hundreds of years before Jesus Christ walked on earth. It is this love of the stranger as I have already said which becomes the guide for us in loving our neighbor. For if we are to love those who are aliens and strangers to us then certainly God expects us to love the neighbor whom we know. We are commanded from the beginnings of God’s law to love our neighbor, as we love ourselves – with the same intensity and strength that we love ourselves.

God strictly forbids us to do any harm or evil to our neighbor (Psalms 15:3, Proverbs 14:21).) God even forbids us to withhold any good from our neighbor when it is in our power to give the neighbor what he or she may need (Proverbs 3:28 ).

It is in this context of stranger and friend, that we hear our Lord Jesus Christ tell us the story of the Good Samaritan. For Christ again teaches us that to love the neighbor as the self does not mean that we can ignore the stranger. For clearly, the love we are given by God through the Holy Spirit, is a love for each and every person in God’s creation, friend or stranger, brother or enemy, Greek or Jew, male or female.

We should also remember Jesus’ own teaching about the Great Day of Judgement in Matthew 25:35 where the Lord says: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in…”

The Son of God identifies Himself totally with the stranger. And we know that to love and care for any stranger is to love and care for our Master Jesus Christ.

It is then not hard for us to understand Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. ” To love stranger or neighbor is simply to obey God’s commandments to us.

If we can remember that in the Old Testament, the Israelites were constantly reminded to love the stranger because they had been strangers in Egypt and in the promised land. Now, the strangers are not the people of God, but those who have not yet joined God’s people. As St. Paul told the Ephesians

2:12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

In Christ Jesus, we lose the status of being strangers to one another. In Christ Jesus you and I become brothers and sisters and fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. So our love for each other increases, because we are no longer loving strangers, but we are now loving our family. And it is this growing love which we are commanded by Christ to share with every neighbor that we meet, so that any neighbor can also become part of our family, and can know that overwhelming love which God has shown for us.

Exodus 22:21 “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 25:35 ‘And if one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.

Deuteronomy 10:17 “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.

Deuteronomy 10:18 “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.

Psalms 15:3 He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;

Psalms 119:19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.

Proverbs 3:28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,” when you have it with you.

Proverbs 14:21 He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Romans 13:10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Ephesians 2:12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,