Here is an ancient quote: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself…” The quote was first written over 3000 years ago. Guess who wrote it?
It wasn’t Muhammad or Buddha. Both of those men wrote ancient sayings, but they can’t claim ownership to this quote. It wasn’t Confucius. He was born almost fifteen hundred years after the quote went into print. Any ideas? You may have guessed it by now. It was Moses. And to be completely accurate, Moses only wrote it down because God told him.
It’s interesting, but many Christians today do not know these two verses are in the Bible. Probably because they are found in the Book of Leviticus, a part of Scripture that doesn’t get much publicity these days.
It’s an easy quote to understand. It doesn’t contain any tough theological words requiring deep, mystical interpretation. However, it does carry some pretty hefty social, economic and safety implications…especially in our 2020 America.
Who is the “foreigner?” Three thousand years ago it was a stranger who moved into the community and was not from anywhere local. Today, we call this person an immigrant. However, the title “immigrant” does not completely define all the foreigners among us. Let me explain.
War, genocide, ethnic cleansing, political purging, civil war, prejudice, and hate crimes are just some of the tragedies that can cause a person to flee their native country and seek a safer life in a new nation. This person is not called an immigrant. He or she is called a refugee. Refugees never choose to leave their native country. They never choose to walk away from family, careers and friends to start over in America. They are forced to leave and invited to the United States by the federal government.
Famine, poverty, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities and unethical governments are some reasons a person may choose to come to the United States. When hardship or lack of opportunity compels a person to leave their native country and come to America, it is a choice they are making. No one is forcing them to leave. The individual must still do the painful, scary thing of leaving family, friends and everything normal to go to a land with more opportunities. He or she applies for a visa, receives the visa and enters the United States legally. This person is an immigrant.
Refugees and immigrants aren’t the only foreigners among us. There is a third. They are called undocumented immigrants. An undocumented immigrant is a person who enters the United States without a federal invitation and without a visa. It could also be a person who once had a visa, but remained in the country after their visa expired. This “foreigner,” popularly called the illegal immigrant, is the one that gets most of the headlines. Unfortunately, most of the time, all three groups are simply called immigrants. Because of this, all three groups receive the negative press that is really intended for one.
So, who is the foreigner you see? Is he or she a refugee, immigrant, or undocumented immigrant? When God spoke and Moses wrote what we now call Leviticus 19:33-34, was the Almighty taking into consideration the political and social challenges we are currently facing?
Here is the rub: As a Christian today, am I expected to fulfill the instructions of this 3000-year-old quote? Maybe I get a pass on this instruction because it is old? Maybe I can ignore it because it does not take into consideration the economic challenges it creates? Maybe I can reject it because it doesn’t speak to the safety issues it creates for the nation I love?
The answers to these questions are not easy. God knows this. I’m sure the emotions that stir within me when I think about this Biblical instruction are the same emotions Moses’ first audience had. The world has changed, but people really haven’t.
What does God want me (us) to do? Let’s talk about it next time.