What is the most profound text in the Hebrew Bible? Deut 10:12-19 describes a God who has no favourites and loves not only Israel but also the stranger. Israel is commanded to do the same. The most profound OT text is matched by the most difficult in the NT: ‘Love your enemies and do good to your abusers’ (Matt.5). Jesus put this into practice: ‘Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ But what will Grace Tane and thousands of abused women make of this?
In 1941, my father aged 27 became a POW for over 4 years, although in a medical unit he was supposed to be repatriated. He worked most of the time in a German hospital where his captors were not much like enemies. But they were strangers. He found some who were also Christian. Their faith transcended the enemy mentality.
Perhaps there are people who see us as enemies; but we need not reciprocate. The revenge mentality shocks me every time, the parents of the young killed on the roads who want the driver imprisoned for life. Humans don’t easily love enemies, but they love having enemies, love something to hate, witness the deplorables, Homophobia, Islamophobia. Witness the so called ‘illegal immigrants’: ‘We will decide who comes to Australia!’ With such fearful thinking the church persecuted Jews, and the holocaust took place. Jews, Gypsies and Gays were slaughtered.
In the world there are dangerous people who make themselves our enemies. But in our minds we create enemies out of fear in order to define a boundary for our own security. It begins with the Us and Them mentality. Can we transcend this paradigm? Deut 10 shows how. “You must love the stranger because you were strangers”. This Solidarity is spelt out in Leviticus 19:34: love the stranger as you love yourself. The stranger here is not a passer-by but a sojourner (Heb. ger) who lives among us but is different, a challenge we face everyday where we live.
We will love the stranger who is nearby only when we remember our own experience of isolation or shaming, and when we see ourselves as a stranger to them.
‘Love your enemies’ is not a feeling but a thought, a change of mind, an act of repentance called for by Rabbi Jesus from the beginning of his ministry.
Who are the strangers in our lives? Do we speak to strangers on the street, in the elevator?