“You must not exploit a foreign resident nor oppress him, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21.
In 21st Century America, actually ever since the American colonies were founded, the topic of immigration is one that is divisive and gets people worked up into a frenzy. One need look no further than the evening news to hear the red meat soundbite rhetoric politicians use to appeal to their bases on the issue. Terms like illegal, deportation, and amnesty are thrown out in such a way that it makes it seem as though the people that are being spoken of aren’t actually people at all; that they are animals. Many people in the US feel that since “they’re” [the immigrants] not from here, “they” don’t matter.
The immigration debate in the US is one of a growing international issue; as civil war tears Syria apart, Europe is faced with its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Syrian refugees make their way on foot over hundreds of miles to get to places in Europe that will offer them asylum and sanctuary.
So what does God want us to do for the immigrant, the refugee, the foreigner among us?
He wants us to treat them with dignity and respect; to treat them fairly and with compassion. To not demean them nor to oppress them. To treat them as people.
As the Israelites were making their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God gives them this ordinance concerning the foreigners that are among them, and those that will be among them once the Israelites are in their own land. The Hebrews understood what it was like to be strangers in a strange land, to be oppressed; to be dehumanized. God commands his people to remember this and to never allow themselves to do the same to a minority group that is among them. The Hebrews were to be a light to all nations, attracting the foreign nations to God. This is a theme that occurs again and again throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Torah, to treat all people fairly and with dignity,
Why does this matter for us today? In our modern predatory socioeconomic system we’re taught that our resources are too scarce: there’s not enough jobs, there’s not enough houses, or food, or water, or oil, to go around. We’re made to believe that, if allowed, foreigners will overrun our land, take our jobs, bring crime, and change the complexion of our society. We forget that this is a country built by foreigners, on land stolen from those who originally inhabited it. We forget that this is a land of bounty with more than enough to support those already here and those to come. But the Church forgets one other thing as well: that this land isn’t really our home either. We are merely sojourners–which can also be translated foreigners–in this world. We are in the world, yet not of it. Our duty is the same as that of the Hebrews of the Old Testament. We are foreigners in this world, so we are to treat all we encounter as God has commanded us–with compassion, dignity, love and respect. After all, this is how we desire to be treated. We, just like the Israelites of old, are to be lights in this world, attracting the foreign nations to God.
Treat the foreigner among you with respect, for you too are a foreigner.