WWDP – France – Welcoming the Stranger.
Leviticus is an unlikely book of the Bible to have a song sung about it. But as my children will bear witness too, there is such a song. I won’t attempt to sing it but it starts:
“Rules, you’ve got rules.
Rules at school, rules at the pool,
God gave the Israelites a bunch of rules too.
When they had questions or needed Direction
They took a little look at the rule book section”
Leviticus is in many ways exactly that, it’s a set of instructions on how to live in the world the Jewish people found themselves in after the exodus. It’s, not always easy to read, and there are many ongoing debates on what some of the instructions contained in Leviticus mean for us today. It is not always easy to (as the song says in a later lyric) separate the ethical from the ritual.
Our reading from Leviticus today, is a sort of edited highlights of chapter 19. It speaks of how the people were to treat the foreigners for which we can read ‘Gentiles’ who came to live within the Jewish communities.
It’s a lesson that many of could do with learning in our migrant and transitory societies of the 21st Century, and it’s a lesson that the French State have done much to learn over the years, starting right back in their colonial past.
It’s not a very well known fact that the French have always had a very different attitude to their overseas territories than many other nations, including our own. They consider their quite considerable overseas possessions as part of France, not as separate dependencies. This means that against all odds France is actually the second biggest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world. It also means the French nation has a very different relationship with immigrants from it’s own colonies at least. They are, to all intents and purposes French citizens.
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Lev19:34
It is the spirit of this verse that can be seen, whether intentional or not, in the way the French often tend to embrace those who flock to their nation seeking a new and better life.
Of course France is not without it’s problems, and it would be disingenuous to suggest they have no issues with immigration. But there is a spirit of welcome here we can all learn from.
But the real challenge comes not from a nation or state but the words of scripture itself. Yes we are instructed to make the foreigner welcome in our land, to treat them as native, but as we know rules are not enough to make us do something. If they were the result in our lives from reading this book would be very different.
Why & how are we called to make the immigrant community at home only comes, like most things, with a complete reading of scripture.
The New Testament calls us to a life of love.
It may not sound like it but that heart of love is beating behind our reading from Matthew, the infamous sheep and the goats passage. There are some hard truths in these verses about what happens to those who don’t know Christ when time is finally called. But that warning is there for us to heed not as a declaration for non-believers. Because it is we, God’s people, that need to read these words and let them change us and most importantly let them change us in how we treat the ‘foreigner’ as Leviticus puts it.
That change in behaviour comes when we get our own relationship with God right. When we really truly put down self in favour of God. When we are willing to hear and respond to the whisper of God’s Holy Spirit.
Because our faith in God should be something that changes who we are. It should be something that has a fundamental effect on our being. The attributes Jesus describes in this passage are not a Levitical style law or rule for Christians.
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Under the Levitical law we can go through the motions of welcoming in the stranger, we can provide for the needs of others but unless we do so out of our gospel transformation, because our heart has been transformed into a heart of love, it is meaningless.
Too often we see these biblical lists of righteousness as instructions on behaviour. They’re not. They’re the result of the change the Holy Spirit brings in our lives.
When we treat them as rules we become implicit in oppression. When we act out of the love Christ shows for us we change lives.
The theme of this WWDP is ‘Welcoming Strangers’ it’s a gospel challenge. If we want to be a people who welcome strangers as if they’re one of the family then we must start with ensuring our relationship with God is right.
This is where it starts – with God in our own lives.