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Core Themes

Core Themes

Friday, February 22, 2013 — Week of Lent 1 (Year One)

Eric Liddell, Missionary to China, 1945

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 952)

Psalms 40, 54 (morning) // 51 (evening)

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Hebrews 4:11-16

John 3:22-36

“So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?” Today’s Deuteronomy passage opens with a summary of the law. We’ve just read the story of the tablets of the ten commandments. What follows will be more expansive instructions for us to be faithful to God’s commandments. The teaching begins with the charge that we are to reverence, obey and love God “with all your heart and with all your soul,” and to keep the commandments. We are told that the purpose of these commandments is “for your own well-being.”

Centuries later Jesus will take part of this charge and summarize the entire law under the single rubric of love: Love God with all your heart and with all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The Deuteronomic editor says that it all began with love. God loved our ancestors and “set his heart in love” on them. So, love God. So much that follows from here will be a more specific description of what it means to love God, neighbor and self.

It is significant that the first two instructions about how we are to love others concern first, justice for the orphan and the widow, and second, support for the stranger.

The first specific instruction about our responsibilities to our neighbor in this important tract on the law enjoins us to care for the weak, poor and vulnerable, and to care for the alien. The second: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt.” The word “stranger” is usually translated “alien.” These two commandments will continue to be central issues for the Hebrew scripture. To obey these commandments is a big part of God’s charge to us to “execute justice.”

Centuries of Christian lawmakers and political policies have seen these two commandments of justice to be at the core of our communal responsibilities. When we make laws today, if they are going to reflect the original laws of God, they will need to promote the welfare of the poor and vulnerable and they will need to make provision for hospitality for the stranger. These are core expectations throughout the witness of scripture.

That is why is seems so shocking to me that people who characterize themselves as Christians sometimes make it central to their political philosophy to oppose laws that give equal and supportive power and security to the poor and vulnerable, to orphans and widows.

How can anyone who accepts the name “Jewish” or “Christian” ever support punitive and inhospitable laws toward the alien or the stranger? To do so violates a core theme of the scripture and of our identity as God’s people.


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