Hospitality to strangers became a part of Jewish faith law and practice prior to this passage. The key here is that the definition of the word “stranger” is extended beyond the family of Jewish people to include people from a foreign culture and land. Non-citizens are to be treated as citizens. Which means that they need to live up to the same expectations as citizens, but also that they have the same opportunities and freedoms as citizens would.
This could just be a law to debate and follow, but the Scripture provides an important reason behind God’s expectations. God’s people are to have empathy for the alien. They are to remember the stories of their ancestors who were oppressed and enslaved in Egypt, and that story is to guide them in how they treat the people who live among them. The foundation of this law is love and care. When this law is not followed, the problem is not only lawlessness, but also lovelessness. It is a spiritual issue as much as a civil issue.
These ancient words were not revoked by Jesus. If anything, they were reinforced as we will see over the coming days of investigating scripture. As a traditional church for a modern world, we seek to translate this expectation into action today. The question is how. Some congregations actively practice justice for the immigrant by working with Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) to help people become citizens. Others provide sanctuary, housing people who might be deported in their church buildings. Others work on housing challenges, access to jobs that pay a living wage, teaching English, or living as one body of Christ by intentionally building multicultural, multi-lingual congregations. Our work is to prayerfully seek to understand our part of God’s mission.
Take this short passage with you today in a prayerful way. Seek to notice the stranger and ask yourself what it means welcome the “alien” as a “citizen” here in our area.
|When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33 – 34 NRSV|
Lord, these words of the Old Testament set high expectations of your people, and the actions of Jesus confirm that these expectations remain for his followers. Help us to see where our gifts can be used to do your Will with great empathy and love. In Christ we pray– Amen.