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July 25, 2012

Under Roman law, “the idea of citizenship had enabled people of various classes and backgrounds to have a sense of common membership,” but by medieval times, with the rise of the Frankish kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire, “the Germanic polity was not based on law, as Rome’s had been, but on undefined tribal customs which emphasized loyalty over justice.” In this “culture of Germanic tribalism . . . as the basis of social structure, the category of ‘stranger’ had taken on new force in Europe. According to Germanic custom, a stranger was an object without a master. Insofar as he was not protected, either by a powerful individual, or by inter-tribal or international agreement, he did not enjoy the most elementary rights. He could be killed, and his murderer could not be punished . . . His property was ownerless, and his heirs had no rights of inheritance.”

– Quotes from Constantine’s Sword, by James Carroll (2001), pp. 240,242

Carroll is describing the development of anti Semitism within the Christian church. But in a larger sense, being a stranger to God – being estranged from God – means being shut out, being separated from God’s love and protection. But how can we be a stranger to God? What could cause us to be separated from God? Is it God’s punishment upon us for our wrongdoing? That was how the Hebrew prophets explained the calamities befalling their nation. But we do it to ourselves. We separate ourselves from God by our choices, our selfish willfulness – that’s our “sin.” But instead of punishing us, perhaps God is grieving at the broken relationship. For no matter how much we have made ourselves strangers to God, He never lets us go. He never shuts us out but is ever ready and is ever working to reestablish the relationship to Him – that’s God’s grace.

His love of us, therefore, must show in us by our love of others – even strangers.

Trust steadily in God,
Hope unswervingly,
Love extravagantly.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (Peterson)

Loren Bullock
November 22, 2009

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