[Mar 03]--No-Second Class Citizenship

Leviticus 19:33-34; 17:8-16

Resident aliens have always had a rough time of it. Throughout most of history, they've been the victims of discrimination, and sometimes even violence, both by the new homeland’s government and by local nationals. Unfortunately, even this nation, which has a welcome sign on the Statue of Liberty, has not had a perfect record on this account.

Even with perfect laws, we're all imperfect people, and discrimination can never be completely rooted out. The question on my mind, therefore, is “What does God think about it?” You can find passages like today’s reading all over the Torah, so obviously he hates treating people unjustly, especially “underdogs” like resident aliens who'd have a hard time finding legal recourse for any abuse. To summarize, here’s how God instructed his people to treat resident aliens:

1) They were exempt from any dietary laws, so they could eat all the shrimp, lobster and pork chops they wanted.

2) However, there were a few things they were not allowed to eat, mainly blood. One good reason for this would be because blood was commonly drunk during pagan religious rituals.

3) They didn’t have to participate in any holidays except the Sabbath.

4) There were slightly different rules for holding a Gentile versus holding a fellow Hebrew in bondage. Hebrews were supposed to be released after seven years, but the Gentile supposedly could be held indefinitely. Please keep in mind, however, that this was not based on some alleged racial superiority--remember our discussion in Feb. about slavery.

Other than these few exceptions, the overarching principle was “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.” If there were any double standards, quite often they were in favor of the Gentile. In fact, in Deut 10:17-18 they were singled out for God’s special attentive mercy: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome. . .He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

Having said this, I know that in the current climate, condemning the mistreatment of foreigners can lead to misunderstanding, so let me clarify: None of what I'm talking about is meant to condone illegal immigration. The Bible commands us to obey the laws of the land and to submit to government authorities unless they tell us to disobey the Lord. If someone is in our country illegally, then that needs to be dealt with and laws need to be enforced, albeit in a humane and non-abusive manner (befitting their status as image-bearers).

What does this mean to me today? God does not, nor will he ever, sanction treating someone as a second-class citizen in his Kingdom. He has a special place in his heart for the nobodies, the underdogs, those whom the world tends to abuse or ignore. For both the underdog and those who might be tempted to belittle them, please remember, he’s watching.

Father, you are God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome. . .You defend the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and love the foreigner, giving them food and clothing. Please make me like you.

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