24 July 2013Leviticus 25:35-55
“You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.”
The people of Israel were never to forget their experience of slavery in Egypt. In Egypt they had experienced mistreatment and injustice. They had been told to make bricks without straw (Exodus 5:6-8) and were accused of being lazy when they couldn't do it.
When they were to enter into the land given to them by God, things were going to be different. If the people of Israel fell on hard times, then those with more wealth should not lend them money in return for interest nor make a profit from selling food to them. What is more, those who hit rock bottom and had to sell themselves for labour should be released back to their own children and ancestral property at the year of jubilee. In God's land, those with power and wealth should treat those dependent on them with justice and mercy, not with the harsh cruelty they had experienced in Egypt.
Yet this passage still jars to the modern reader. Slavery was accepted as a way of life, and those who were not the people of Israel - the resident aliens or those from the nations around Israel - were to provide the slaves. Reading this passage in the light of the New Testament, we are reminded that the solidarity of the people of Israel one with another is transformed into a Christian understanding of our interdependence on one another: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
The people of Israel were valued because God said they were 'my people'. As Christians we believe that everyone is our neighbour, valued and loved by God. The rules around fair treatment that applied to the Israelites, should now apply to all.
This passage therefore challenges us about our treatment of those who are near to us, and those who are far away. We may treat our families with fairness, even generosity. But this is harder when we think about those far away, whom we will never meet, but with whom we interact in our globalised world. We are dependent on so many people who grow our food, stitch our clothes, make our computers or even recycle our rubbish. Climate change, debt, economic crises and conflicts all show that what happens elsewhere in the world can affect everyone. Globalisation brings an awareness of all God's people closer to home.
- How can I you ensure I you am fair in your dealings with all God's people today?
- Are there areas of the world where God's people are still enslaved? If so, what can you do to support them?