Friday, January 25, 2013
The Foreigner Residing Among You
Exodus 12:48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”
We read of the plagues which came over the Egyptians because they would not let the people of God be released to go home. Over and over again the plagues strike the people of Egypt, but in the land of Goshen where the Israelites live, they remain untouched. God has his hand on the Israelites and now this final plague is to come to the country. This is the final and worst plague -- one in which the first born of all creatures will die. The result is terrible emotional pain throughout the entire land. Only the Israelites are to be saved -- or so I remembered until reading this portion of scripture today. From the very beginning the God of the Israelites was an evangelical God. He was not exclusive to them -- but others could be grafted in and included in the chosen people of God, if they lived by the laws of God. No, not everyone had to suffer the final plague of the passover. Whether they were Jewish, or whether they were foreigners residing among the children of Israel the simply had to be obedient. The law applied to both the Jews and the foreigners. This means that after they had suffered from all of these plagues they could have turned their hearts toward God and he would have accepted them. The foreigner was of no lesser value in God's eyes than the Israelites.
There are rights and privileges that come from being native-born -- rights which we, at times, take for granted. This can relate to us on many different levels -- whether politically, or spiritually. From a political perspective I am a native born US/Canadian citizen -- born in Germany. (That's why I have a blank look on my face when people ask me where I'm from -- so hard to explain :) All my life I have had the privilege of carrying around my little blue US passport. Yes, there have been privileges associated with that little blue book. It allows me to enter certain countries of the world without difficulty. There have been times when exiting a plane that they have separated those of us with the little blue book and those who don't have the little blue book. Those with the blue book being free to walk off the plane without being hassled, and all the rest to have their documentation thoroughly searched. Am I of any greater value in the eyes of God than people who may be carrying a red book or a green book or a bright blue book? Absolutely not! I just happen to have been native born and that is something that I cannot take for granted. I cannot take for granted the rights that I have because of my birth. Instead, I must realize the privileges which have been granted to me as a result, and use those privileges to make a difference in this world. Also, I must join with God in his salvific plan to reach out to the foreigner and welcome them into the community without creating barriers for them. This means that as people of faith we must recognize that the barriers which exist are simply human barriers. God does not have these barriers and when we work with "foreigners" we must realize that within the kingdom "the same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you."
On a spiritual level there are those who are native-born and foreigners as well. Who are the native born? They tend to be the second, third and fourth generation believers within a community of faith. They have been raised in the church and there is a sense of pride or "citizenship" regarding their membership within that community of faith. Sadly the same temptation can develop within these people as within the Israelites. They begin to take their faith for granted…that they really are the chosen ones. They have been born into this faith and they struggle with sharing the church with the newcomers, or "foreigners." Why is that? Because the "foreigners" don't know how to do things the way the "locals" do. The customs and the traditions are simply not the same and when they arrive they bring with them their customs and traditions and sometimes it just seems to mess things up! But God doesn't look on our cultures and/or traditions -- he looks at our hearts. It is the law of God which is the same for everyone including the native-born Christian and the brand new believer. It is not the traditions of the church which matter to God, but the heart of the person. Are they following the law of God, are they living in obedience to him? The truth is that there will be more "foreigners" who may be living the life of true faith than the "native-born" -- and what does that mean? When Jesus came he spoke directly to the "religious" folks of his day and told them that if they were not producing fruit they would be cut off and thrown into the fire. Being "native-born" will not get you privileges in the kingdom of God. Instead, whether native-born or a foreigner, living in obedience to him will get us grafted into the true vine and we will be able to serve as true children in the kingdom.
There is no difference between the native-born or the foreigner. May we work to bring down the man-made barriers as we work together as citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
Lord, please help me to serve you together with my brothers and sisters who are involved in kingdom business! Amen.