Sunday, November 13, 2016

Love the Stranger as Yourself

The Hospitality of Abraham,
Constantinople, late 14th century

A lawyer – that is, a scholar of Torah – asks Jesus what he has to do to live forever (Luke 10:25). Life forever is what Jesus offers, so how do we get it? It's a fair question. Well Jesus says to the man, you already know. Really he says, “What does it say in the law?” (Luke 10:26). You already know Torah and the Torah comes from the Father. The law is to be believed. The answer is already there. And, indeed, the lawyer does know. And he quotes to Jesus the greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27; Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18).

I love this. In another place, another lawyer – to test Jesus – asks him, “What is the greatest commandment?” And Jesus gives him the answer (Matt 22:35-40). He was asking Jesus to test him – to see if he knew his Torah – to see if he was really up to snuff. Because if he was who he said he was, then this is something he should know. This is something that the Pharisees and scholars of the law knew, which is made clear today when the roles are reversed and it is Jesus asking the question and the lawyer answering. Of course, Jesus does know what the Pharisees and lawyers already know. But he also knows more than they do.

Then, desiring to justify himself, the lawyer says to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). This is something that Jesus knows but the lawyer doesn’t – and it’s something we also forget. He knows who our neighbors are. And he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the point – that our neighbors are not to only those of our own people, or our own country, or political party, or our own religion – that our neighbors include foreigners and heretics and heterodox and our enemies and – to me this is in a way even more startling – strangers. Strangers are our neighbors. 

Today, many in this country are looking at their neighbors, most of whom are strangers, as enemies because of how they voted. As Brother Isaac said recently, “Politics divide. Love in Christ unites!” He advises us, and I think we should listen:
Do something kind for a stranger today.
If you are happy about the results of the election, do something kind for a stranger today.
If you are sad or angry about the result of the election, do something kind for a stranger today.
If you are ambivalent about the result of the election, do something kind for a stranger today.
Our lens is always the Empty Tomb![1]

Love of strangers is a path to healing and even resurrection. The way to eternal life is love of God and neighbor. And Jesus reveals to us today that strangers are our neighbors. Love them.
“Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong.” Everything love is not sounds like a description of our political landscape, doesn’t it? “But love rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:4-8).
The Good Samaritan loved his neighbor and he was a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers (Luke 10:36-37). Even though the man was probably a Jew coming from Jerusalem – and Samaritans and Jews were at enmity with one another for both religious and ethnic reasons (Luke 10:30). And furthermore, the man was a stranger to him. It seems they never spoke – before, during, or after. But the Samaritan had compassion on him (Luke 10:33). And he loved him.

It's clear how much he loved him by the extent of inconvenience to which he was willing to subject himself for him. The Samaritan was on his own journey, but he leaves behind his own priorities to seek the good of the other even at significant personal expense of both time and money, tending the man's wounds with oil and wine and bandages, carrying him on his own beast to an inn, and paying the innkeeper two day's wages to see to the man's care (Luke 10:33-35). All this for a stranger.
When we are busy and distracted with pressing concerns, it can be easy to justify ourselves, as the lawyer did, telling ourselves that “we gave at the office” or that we will help a stranger next time, but this time we’re too busy with “matters of consequence.”[2] Well, bear in mind whose voice is actually justifying our neglect. Metropolitan Kallistos teaches us a way to distinguish between the voice of the devil and the voice of the Lord: the devil always says, “yesterday” or “tomorrow,” but the Holy Spirit always says “today.”[3]
Pious Christians laudably expend much energy in avoiding sin and not giving into temptation. Unfortunately, the habit of not giving into impulses sometimes seems to get transferred to good desires too. If you’re tempted to give, go ahead and give into it. Never resist the urge to give. Don’t avoid the eyes of strangers for fear that you’ll be tempted to give them something. Be as reckless with your kindness as you are neptic with your anger. Love both those that make you angry and those that inspire you to give – both your enemies and strangers. 
An enemy is often someone we already have strong feelings about – so they’re often on our minds – while strangers are people we're often hardly aware of. Many of us often make small decisions to avoid being troubled by strangers. A decision to look the other way as we pass them on the street. Especially if it's apparent that they're going to ask us for something – probably money – probably for drugs.

I have never come across a person stripped and beaten on the road left for dead. It's an extreme example that Jesus gives us. He likes those. I have often come upon someone with a need that I recognize. If somebody's coming up to you asking for money, let me tell you, they are in need. There's a probability that they're not in need of that which they seek. But they are in need. And to turn away from that need is unloving of the stranger. And Jesus reveals to us today is that the stranger is our neighbor.

If you have ever turned away from a person in need because you were in a hurry to get to your job or to some other obligation or pleasure – and I confess that I have – ask yourself, how would you have responded to their need if they were a loved one? Would you have turned from them if it was your son or your daughter or your husband or your wife? Would you have turned away from them if you loved them?

Jesus reveals to us today that the stranger is our neighbor. And the greatest commandment tells us to love our neighbor.

Maybe you shouldn’t always give people what they are asking for. Many people argue that persuasively, though at the same time don’t forget that Jesus says to “give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30).

Give to everyone who begs from you. Maybe don’t give everyone money, but give to them what they do need. Give your shirt also to the one who takes your coat (Luke 6:29). Give drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, coats to the freezing, kindness and patience to strangers. And give love to all your neighbors, whether or not they’re from your neighborhood.

Even if your church’s neighborhood is not your neighborhood, the strangers who live all around it are still your neighbors. Even if your job is far from home, all those around you at work are your neighbors, even if they voted the other way. If you go out to eat, your servers and the jerks in the parking lot are all your neighbors. Jesus has revealed to us that our neighbors are not only our own people, but everyone – not only нас, but all. 

Loving our neighbors is part of loving God. Our Holy Father John Chrysostom, whose feast is today, is often quoted as saying that if you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.

And that extends also to everyone you meet, I believe. The image of God is in every person and that image is wholly lovable, however obscured it may be. Everyone wants to be loved by all, no matter what they say defensively, because they have been hurt.

Wanting to be loved is not a weakness. Even God wants to be loved and God is not weak. God wants to be loved and he takes the guise of the stranger. As you love strangers, that is how you love God. Remember when three strangers came to Abraham and how he ran out to meet them and bowed before them, washed their feet, and fed them bread cakes and milk and curds, and killed for them the choice calf (Gen 18:2-7). Only after did he realize he was showing hospitality to angels and to God himself. These three – men or angels – are our image of the Trinity, famously painted by Rublev. And at first they were strangers.

God, the only true Lover of us all, alone fully deserves love. But we are made in His image, and as such we also desire to love and to be loved by all, even strangers. Do unto strangers as you would have them do unto you. Love strangers as you would have them love you. Love the stranger as yourself.

[1] Br. Isaac Hughey’s Facebook Page. Accessed November 9th, 2016. 
[2] Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince, chapters 7 and 13.
[3] Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (Ware), Discovering the Inner Kingdom, (Oakwood Publications, 1997), 9. 

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