Over the years we have become aware that the United States has become a hodge-podge of various ethnic groups. Whether we are riding public transportation or grocery shopping, it is not unusual to hear many languages spoken, many of which we don’t understand. It seems as if the foreigner has taken over, and we ourselves have become stangers in a strange land. As with their languages, so with their cultural expressions. They are hard to understand. How are we supposed to react?
In the first reading, from the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Exodus 22:22-26), there is a proposal suggested by God on how to deal with outsiders–as well as other “rejects” from society.
The timeline framework for the reading is not long after Israel and God have established a bi-lateral covenant relationship on Mt. Sinai. It is, above all, a covenant of mutual obligation where God and Israel commit themselves based on the “If-Then” proposal. That is to say, God says to Israel, through the mediatorship of Moses, “Now, therefore, IF you obey my voice and keep my covenant, (THEN) you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples….” (Exodus 19:5) Though the “then” is not stated in the text it is presupposed in the intent of the statement.
YHWH would be Israel’s God if the people were to keep the laws which soon followed after the establishment of the covenant. Today’s biblical reading mentions some of these laws, which treat in some parts with “outsiders,” namely, aliens, widows and orphans, and debtors. They are called “outsiders” because they don’t fit the prescribed requirements for membership in Israelite society.
Today’s first reading deals with aliens, widows, orphans, and debtors. First, the “aliens.” God reminds the Israelites that they themselves were “aliens” in the land of Egypt. In the midst of their suffering the people cried out to God for help and he heard their cry and delivered them. Should anyone cry out to God for help, especially the outsider, God will hear the cry and help.
Second, “widows” and “orphans.” These were considered powerless because they did not not have the protection of a husband or father–a requisite in those days. It would be up to the community to care for them.
Third, the “debtors.” The idea behind the law as expressed in this reading, was that one was not to shame the debtor by demanding exorbitant requests. Otherwise, this would lead to slavery. “Fairness” should be the operating principle.
The above ideas from the day’s readings can have application in our lives. When people borrow money or other items from us, it would be well to remember that in the beginning God created all of humanity in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). In a real sense this makes us brothers and sisters with the rest of humanity so that we belong to a worldwide family. One should treat family with great dignity which means being fair and just and not shame them.
In addition, widows, orphans, and other outsiders (for example, debtors) are also included in our worldwide family, so taking care of them becomes part of our responsibility. Our Baptism reminds us of that responsibility. God’s motivation for caring for these people was one of compassion. That should be our motivation as well.
Consequently, we won’t have to think about ourselves and others as being members of different “groups,” but, rather, think of them and us as “family” — operating out of a motive of compassion.