toward a stranger Thanksgiving

NOTE: The following is a guest post by a dear friend of mine, Bill Ehlig. Bill happens to be one of my shepherds at MoSt Church and I can assure you, he, more than anyone else I know, “practices what he preaches” in this post. Enjoy, and be challenged!

Our President took the liberty to refer to a concept from the Bible last night. It is not all that well known, but ignorance of the concept cannot be attributed to the concept being unmentioned. In fact the concept of care for strangers is fairly basic in the Bible from beginning to end. The President said, “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.” He was nearly quoting from Exodus 23.9:

“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

This is a theme in the Law [Genesis – Deuteronomy] and also the Prophets [Isaiah – Malachi, the Jews adding most of Joshua – 2 Kings]. Have a look if you wish: Ex. 22.21 (20); Lev. 19.33, 34; Deut. 10.18,19; 24.17,18; Jer. 7.6; 22.3; Ezek.  22.7,29; Zech. 7.10. If you looked at these, you may have noticed that the concern is not only negative [don’t oppress], but also positive [take care of the stranger]. The 3rd or 4th commandment [depending if you count the Catholic or Protestant] refers to the same concern [Deut. 5.12-14; Ex. 20.8-11]. Also, Israel was supposed to be somewhat careless regarding the harvest and leave some in the field for the strangers and others [Deut. 24.19-22; Ruth 2.1-23]. The Law took all this one step further regarding taxes in Deuteronomy 14.28-29:

“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”

Israel paid for assistance whether they got taxes from the stranger or not! This was in their budget. Not too surprisingly Jesus took up the same line as Moses. An example: the commandment he called ‘The Second’ [Matt. 22.34-36; Mark 12.28-34; Luke 10.25-28] “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The story of the Good Samaritan is downstream of this commandment in Luke. Jesus was quoting from Leviticus 19.18. I would add from the same chapter verses 33 and 34.

“And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

A last note from Jesus; he defined the differences between sheep and goats on how they cared for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned [Matt. 25.31-46]. He set the bar high, much higher than our discourse has generally been. Earlier, I wrote ‘beginning to end’. Let me add Genesis 15.13 and Hebrews 13.2. That would be about 92% of span of the whole Bible. There is plenty more between these about caring for others, even strangers.

There is something which should be added to all this: The President used the word ‘stranger’ for his speech. That would be from the King James Version. He could have used other words instead. Other translations do not use ‘stranger.’ They use foreigner, alien, immigrant, and more. Generally the point can be made with a little more umph from these other translations.

I wonder how much the President’s citation from scripture was noticed. I wonder how much hearers realized just how rich the concern for strangers is in Scripture.

There will be those who would prefer the President kept out of religion. Fine, I suppose. But I hope these abandon the song of “our Judeo/Christian heritage”. If we can’t get “the heart of a stranger” right, we might want to avoid other subjects where Scripture is not so clearly represented. Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. Let us not forget the ‘stranger’ part of that celebration.

Bill Ehlig