The stranger and the sojourner – today we would probably speak of the migrants, refugees, the travellers - are often mentioned in the bible, both the old and new testament. Very often with the reference: Remember that you have been strangers yourselves, as slaves in Egypt before the exodus, and also in exile.
The history of the people of God is that of a wandering people, being strangers to others and meeting strangers in places of settlement. The commandment therefore is clear: remember that you yourself have been strangers, do not maltreat the stranger, do not exploit their vulnerability. Ensure that the poor, the deaf, the blind, the people at the margins who are not able to sustain themselves, have something to eat and drink, that they also enjoy justice.
In this bible passage, the people of God are told to respect and assist “the others” underlined by the statement “I am the Lord, your God”. Every human being belongs to His creation, and while we may believe or perceive to see strangers, we meet and see God’s creation.
Stranger and neighbour are sometimes used as synonyms, which probably stems from the interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here it is the stranger, the Samaritan, who does the immediately necessary thing, while others, closer to the victim ethnically or religiously, passed the scene without intervention. Also in the story of the final judgement, the stranger features high, parallel to the hungry and thirsty, the prisoners: providing them with essentials, basics, leads to the kingdom of God.
How would we respond to today’s exclusion: leaving some part of our harvest, our work, to be done to those who do not have a job, because they do not speak our language? Paying just salaries and ensuring justice in courts – particularly for the strangers who depend on this? Our reality is different: if we were to share our jobs, would we not be regarded as “inefficient”? How do we ensure salaries being paid to strangers when they are not having all documents, perhaps no work permit as an asylum seeker?
Let us look at some examples:
All these examples appear small compared to the challenges faced by people in the Middle East, in Eritrea, people trafficked in the Sinai, the people of Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey hosting millions of refugees.
The biblical text does not ask the people of God to give up harvesting and taking care for one’s own family, but it sets the principle of sharing and fair and just treatment of the stranger. Do we dare to follow this principle today?
Let us pray for the courage to discern together how such principles of sharing and justice can find expressions in today’s complicated situation: for He is the Lord, our God.
9: When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
10: And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord, your God.
13: You shall not oppress your neighbour or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning.
14: You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15: You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbour.
Sermon of General Secretary Doris Peschke in Ecumenical service in Turku 16th October 2014