You know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
At different times in our lives, we are all the stranger, standing at the threshold hoping for a word of welcome. As children, when we enter kindergarten we are indeed the stranger – to new surroundings and new expectations. Later as adults, we often find ourselves in the role of the stranger – in college, in the workplace, in new communities. Being the stranger is fundamental to the human experience. Simply being, living, moving through the life cycle, we will at times find ourselves strangers in an alien land – confused, seeking, and hoping for a warm welcome.
Perhaps it is for this reason that some of us find ourselves in the story of God’s people. For our Hebrew mothers and fathers were indeed strangers in an alien land. Their physical journey from bondage in Egypt, through the wilderness, toward the Promised Land, parallels our own life journey with many twists and unexpected turns, taking us to lands unknown, both physical and spiritual.
There is a life-altering debate in our country right now regarding immigration – who to open our doors to and who to keep at arm’s length. Which religious minorities to let in and which to keep out. Whether to build a wall or not to build a wall. To separate children from their parents or to keep them together. Even to provide a toothbrush and soap or not to provide a toothbrush and soap!
Cradled within these discussions often lies xenophobia, a fear of that which is foreign or strange. This sense of the ‘other’ lies at the heart of racism, sexism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and more.
This fear has now spread beyond those seeking entry into the US, to those who are already American citizens of many years but were born in another country. Chants by thousands of Americans at yesterday’s NC Trump Rally of “Send her back! Send her back!” are alarming and dangerous. Shouted in reference to Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar, the chants represent the height of fear of the other, a fear that has reached a frightening pitch in our country, a fear many of us never thought to see expressed by thousands of chanting Americans in the 21stcentury.
There is an urgency to heeding these words from the Book of Exodus that has not existed since the Civil Rights era when these same chants were used to taunt African-Americans who longed for equal education. People of faith, regardless of political persuasion, cannot look the other way. This depth of hatred for those born in other countries must stop and it must stop today.
How different the response might be if we could connect with our own experience of being the ‘other’, the stranger. It is not us versus them, it is all humankind together, struggling to find the common good. It is the most damaging kind of Fake News when we are made to believe that some people are more worthy than others, that some have the right to label and belittle others, that some have the right to stir up hatred and fear. Events in our country might look very different if viewed through the lens of this passage.
Can you remember a time when you were the stranger? How did you feel?