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Love and dignity for 'the stranger'

From the Christian Science Sentinel - August 7, 2013

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For years, our downtown church was challenged with people sleeping on our porch and being destructive to our grounds. Initially many members tried compassionately to help these individuals, but were unsuccessful in changing the circumstances. 

Certainly looking the other way, or “passing by on the other side” (see Luke 10:31, 32) is not loving. Instead, taking the time and effort truly to know the “stranger” as God’s beloved son or daughter is doing much. With love, our prayers go forth to bless all concerned. 

I began praying to know how to respond to the conditions of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. I wanted to know that God’s man can never be without a home—he is constantly cared for in the kingdom of God. It occurred to me that only after correcting my own thought and asking for God’s guidance, could I know how to go forward and perhaps offer the stranger appropriate human assistance.

Looking to the Bible for continued inspiration, I found the following passage: “He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:18, 19).

One definition of stranger is “a person who is unknown.” In the Scriptures, we are commanded to love the stranger—but how do we love someone we don’t know? Christian Science gives us the answer: We are to love him as God loves him. We are to see him as he is—a manifestation of God’s infinite qualities, an heir of Christ.

The “stranger,” the person we are seeking to know rightly, is hungry for Truth.

Christ Jesus gives us some additional insights into how we need to love “the stranger”: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. … Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (see Matthew 25:31–40).

Let’s consider each of these demands spiritually:

  • “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat”: “The stranger,” the person we are seeking to know rightly, is hungry for Truth. He is satisfied by “meat,” by spiritual substance, the truth about God’s loving relationship with humanity.
  • “I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink”: The seeking individual is thirsting for the knowledge of God’s love. The “drink” we give is our own expression of God’s infinite love and kindness. That expression is surely one of respectfulness, affection, hopefulness, and brotherly kindness.
  • “Naked, and ye clothed me”: The “naked” man would be defenseless and unprotected. Our duty is to see God’s likeness as clothed in righteousness and wrapped in the arms of divine Love.
  • “I was sick, and ye visited me”: A false view of man ignores the divine qualities he possesses—qualities of perfect health and a sound mind. It is our duty to “visit” or aid him with an absolute conviction of his wholeness and completeness.
  • “I was in prison, and ye came unto me”: The “stranger” has been judged unfairly and sentenced to suffer. Yet we can confirm that man need not suffer. God is constantly holding man above any sinful sense. Man resides in God’s kingdom—never dwelling in matter. He forever has a home with God.

By loving our fellow man, we are loving God. When we actively pray to know the truth about man—all men and women—we are serving God. This kind of help is infinitely more substantial than any type of human aid we could give (though it could also lead us to give appropriate practical aid). As Mrs. Eddy states in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power” (p. 192). Elsewhere in the same book, she adds, “Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love—the kingdom of heaven—reign within us, and sin, disease, and death will diminish until they finally disappear” (p. 248).

Over the past few years our church members have been led by our prayers to seek individual and collective ways to reach out to those in need. We have earnestly pursued help for individuals through city programs, and we regularly try to put those in need in contact with groups that can help them. However, we’ve found that it has been through our prayers that a “change of base” (Science and Health, p. 162) has been taking place. We have found that fervently seeking God to guide us in expressing His love to all of those in our community brings much improvement. We have seen more activity in our Reading Room and appreciation for our church by our neighbors. Now we have only an occasional visitor to our porch, and in those cases much more harmony is apparent. Others in our neighborhood have also been blessed.

We don’t always have the opportunity to share verbally God’s love for man with those with whom we come in contact. But what’s really important is the change that takes place in our own thought as we pray to know “the stranger” as he honestly is. When this happens, he is no longer a stranger, but a beloved brother. And we see not only our fellow man, but also our church, community, and the world, as it really is—and all are blessed!

Karen Sevaly lives in Riverside, California.

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