WPRC 3: Love the Stranger (Deuteronomy 10:17-20)

A-20A17For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.(Deuteronomy 10:17-20)

 

Strangers. Who are your strangers? I often think of “strangers” as people whom I don’t know. But I think something more important is at work in Deuteronomy. Strangers aren’t just people you don’t know, they are people who are distinctly different from you: foreigners, people of a different color, people who speak a different language, people who aren’t from here. The text assumes that the people of God, Israel, are “at home” where they are, and there are others among them who are not “at home” and are strangers.

The text works because it reminds Israel: You were strangers once. You were foreigners. You were in a strange land, not at home, and you know what it’s like to be lonely, vulnerable, unemployed and unemployable, despised, oppressed, subject to forced labor and endless debt. You know, people, what it was like. And now there are strangers among you. So love them.

In this text, it’s also clear that “love” doesn’t mean “have nice warm feelings.” It says God loves strangers, providing them food and clothing. And then it says: You love strangers, too. Provide them food and clothing. Welcome them among you and make sure they are taken care of if they can’t take care of themselves quite yet. The Bible frequently mentions God’s care for widows and orphans, who are the most vulnerable in society, and that care is always material. And that care is always assumed to be shared by God’s people.

In the American context, most of us live in some kind of metropolitan area and we are surrounded by people different from us, strangers, other languages spoken, other foods and smells, different religions. Even though we may try to escape the stranger with our segregated housing and lives, we can’t. And escaping the stranger has never been the biblical mandate for how to live at home when others among you are not at home. The mandate has always been to love them.

Here are my questions out of this text:

Who is your stranger? What race, foreign nationality, religion, or lifestyle doesn’t fit your experience?

Who are the ones around you that God is calling you to love?

Do you remember a time when you were the stranger, the not “at home,” or the one in need? Did someone befriend you? Were you compeltely excluded? How does that experience affect how you treat strangers?

At this moment in American culture and politics, there’s a lot of talk about strangers, especially the ones who do not have legal documentation to be here. Aside from what you think about immigration laws, how does this text speak to how people of faith respond to these strangers?

WPRC 2: Being Rich Toward God (Luke 12:13-21)

C-58D13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

Jesus teaches quite a bit about wealth, and he is always bringing a word of warning. Wealth is a barrier, a stumbling block, a blinding force that gets in the way of loving God and loving neighbor.

 In this passage, we first hear a man asking Jesus to settle a family inheritance dispute with his brother. The man assumed, I guess, that Jesus would make sure he got his fair share. But Jesus confronts the man with a deeper question: What kind of hold does greed and wealth have on your life?

 Then Jesus’ parable tells a story of a wealthy man who was foolish. That alone is an important message: Wealth is not the same as wisdom, and often leads to foolishness, at least in the kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurates.

 “The land of a rich man…” I’ve become aware through studying economics that one of the defining issues of wealth is land ownership. Land is everything: place, home, means of producing food. Owning land meant having a lot of power, and especially power over those who don’t own land. If his land produced abudantly, it wasn’t grown and harvested on its own — many workers made it happen. Yet, the rich man only asks questions of himself: How do I store all of this, maintain my wealth, keep it safe from others?

 The God of Scripture is a God of abundance, producing enough for all to have life. Yet, in this parable, abundance is a problem, but only for the rich man. Abundance is a source of joy and celebration when all are fed. When one man needs to hoard and control abundance, it is a problem for him (or her), and for all those who don’t share in the abundance.

 And then the zinger of the parable: Foolish man, you’re going to die. What does it all mean now? Death is the great leveler between rich and poor. Our lives are limited and defined by numbered days between birth and death. What we do with those days, each day, is what matters, not how much we can accumulate for ourselves, as if we were going to live forever.

 So Jesus challenges all who have wealth, or trust too much in wealth, and want wealth so they can think their lives will finally be good. Why do you trust in wealth more than God?

 So here are my thoughts and questions to consider:

1. What should the wealthy man have done with his abundant crop?

2. How does the church struggle with managing its resources faithfully? Do we hoard our resources? What does it mean to be wise stewards, and saving and investing the right amount in the church’s “barns”?

3. What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” How is it related to NOT storing up treasures for ourselves?

4. What happened to the rich man’s abundant harvest after he died?

5. How do our current economic issues relate to the parable, such as workers’ wages falling compared to years past while profits rise?

— Michael Coffey