Wednesday 17 July 2013

Bible Book:

Leviticus 19:26-37 Wednesday 17 July 2013


The final section of this chapter from the book of Leviticus isconcerned with the identity of the community of faith in Israel. Itis critical of physical, cultic or ethical practices which areimportant identity markers for other surrounding communities in theancient Near East. It considers ways of mourning the dead (verse28), for example, encouraging the Israelites not to mark theirbodies as a sign of grief. There are other ways in which thecommunity can mark their loss, but nothing should be done whichconfuses boundaries between themselves and other peoples.

So it is therefore somewhat surprising, here in this set ofcommandments that are so concerned with order and definition, tofind a law which throws all social and religious order intoconfusion. Not only is the alien, foreigner or stranger to not beoppressed in any way, they are to be treated as the citizen. Theforeigner becomes the citizen, the stranger becomes the one who isknown. The circle of care and commitment, already extended beyondkin to neighbour, is now to include the resident alien.

The memory of being slaves in Egypt from where God rescued themand brought them to a new place, is invoked throughout the HebrewBible. The experience of living in another's land is understood togive the Israelites special insight and compassion for those whoare far from home. But to find this encouragement in a part of thelaw so concerned with boundaries  (in a set of teaching oftenthought to reflect a time when national identity was needing to bestrengthened in the face of the overwhelming power of the PersianEmpire) is yet another example of how as readers of the Bible weare never allowed to settle too comfortably in our own assumptionsand prejudices.

To Ponder

  • How do other people identify you as a person of faith?
  • How might your local church or community be welcoming of thestranger?
  • What gifts might you receive from those who are 'residentaliens'?
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