Ex. 22:21 You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. 23 If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; 24 my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
Ex. 22:25 If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; 27 for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.
When God speaks these words to the Israelites they are moral imperatives, given in the form of the Ten Commandments. The behaviors here are not something that would be enforced by a human court of law, but they are, rather, moral requirements of God’s holy people. A standard of behavior is required of holy people which goes beyond the letter of the law. This is really about how God’s holy people are to conduct themselves in society and these imperatives reflect the very nature and character of God.
This begins with a reminder that the Israelites had been foreigners in Egypt and they had been sorely abused. They knew what that felt like and they were to remember the pain and the struggle when it came to their relationship with the resident aliens who lived among them. These were the marginalized and not only did it include the ethnic minorities, but also the widows and the orphaned children. God affirmed that the cries of the marginalized would be heard if in any way, shape or form, God’s people abused them. This is the one time that punishment is mentioned in this passage, for God is serious in the requirements for God’s holy people.
The next three verses end with the phrase, “I am compassionate.” Again, the very nature of God is revealed in this section because God’s holy people are not to make money at the expense of the poor. Neither should a holy person make someone suffer from lack of basic needs. The cloak represents the basic need of shelter and even if the person has a debt, they, nor their children should be deprived because God is compassionate, and we are to be compassionate as well.
These moral imperatives are to be reflected in God’s holy people.
I’ve lived as a resident alien in a foreign land, and it is because of the love and acceptance of my dear Russian-speaking friends that I came to love the people of that foreign land. There were many days that I needed a kindhearted individual who would help me make my way through a very complex system. I remember what it was like to be an alien in the land!
Now I live in the United States and the reality is that nearly everyone is here because their ancestors were immigrants. I think that’s a serious reminder to God’s holy people because just like the Israelites, we have also been immigrants in a foreign land. There was a time when our grandparents or great grandparents struggled with the language and trying to adjust to a new world. Often they met and worshipped together in the language of the old country. Communities formed where people felt comfortable still living with the culture they had brought with them. They sold food that reminded them of home, and even published newspapers in their native tongue.
My mother spoke German at home and had to learn English when she began attending Elementary School, and she was born in Canada! It all comes pretty close to home when we realize we are just a generation or two away from being the resident alien. God’s holy people reach out to those who are arriving from other lands and reflect the character of God in all relationships.
It’s easy to marginalize individuals who are not like us without even knowing it. Just as immigrant populations feel comfortable staying together, so do the rest of us. We are comfortable with those who are most like us and when someone who is different is thrown into the mix, we aren’t sure what to do. God’s holy people are called to be intentional in reaching out to those within our communities who are not exactly like us. It’s when we live as kingdom people that the barriers that divide us come down and we become united in the love of Christ.
The love of Christ compels us to to live lives of compassion. In today’s world the widow just may be the single parent who needs help and support. Far too often we set up systems within the church to minister to two-parent families. The ones who need our extra help are the single-parent families. I’ve heard their cries for help and their pain at feeling like failures. Sometimes our structures remind them that they don’t exactly fit in and we create more pain than we ever intend.
God's holy people are to respond to the cries for help in the midst of deep need. Those needs may be revealed in a variety of ways but we are to be attentive and show compassion. The moral imperative derived from the nature of God compels us to go above and beyond the letter of the law.
Lord, please help me to be aware of those with needs around me. Help me be intentional in reflecting your compassion. Amen.