Some Sundays in church I sit and listen to the Scripture readings waiting for something to strike me, but nothing does. All of it is good and important, but nothing shouts “this is meant for you here and now!”
But today I only have to get to the beginning of the first reading: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). What could be more “here and now” than that?
This year, two members of my parish have been deported -- the father of one family, the mother of another, both after living and working in town for many years.
When my pastor touched on these situations in a homily, a parishioner told him to avoid such matters, because Sunday Mass should be an opportunity for inspiration and getting on higher spiritual ground. This week’s first reading indicates that facing the suffering of aliens is an opportunity for inspiration, an invitation to get ourselves to higher ground.
The first reading continues, “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan” (Ex 22:21). Those two deportations didn’t produce any literal widows or orphans. But they did break up two families.
Today’s reading is an excerpt from lengthy instructions God gave the Israelites at Mount Sinai about how they were to live with each other when they got to the promised land — a kind of civil and criminal code. Basically, the instructions call for the Israelite villagers to treat each other -- and others — with fairness.
The issue of fairness is explicit in today’s excerpt. Why should the Israelites be good to resident aliens in their midst? Because “you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20).
The Israelites had been aliens in Egypt without legal protections, forced to do the hardest manual work. Now that God has rescued them from that situation, how unfair it would be if they, of all people, were unkind to their own resident aliens!
Years ago, my grandfather came here from Italy. My mother came from England. Do the needs of today’s immigrants raise an issue of fairness for me? Am I hearing a “this is meant for you” in this biblical text? Yes, I am.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). The immigrants among us, documented and not, seem to be crowding toward the front of the line of neighbors who call for my attention.