Today at Morning Prayer I read these words from the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew (Jewish) Torah (Law). The book consists of three speeches by tradition delivered to the Israelites by Prophet Moses shortly before they enter the Promised Land and dates from the 8th cent. BC:
‘You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. …
You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.’ (Deuteronomy 24:10-22)
It’s clear from these verses that, at this early stage of their identity as a nation, the Israelites believed that ‘aliens’ jeopardised their existence. How little has changed in almost 3000 years! Listening to what many say about ‘immigrants’ (even people from constituent parts of the UK about ‘disgusting Europeans’) I realise that only the Word of God can remind us that we are one people and that there are real dangers in what we now call racism. As one singer sang when I was a teenager, when will we ever learn? Perhaps only a people who have experienced being aliens in a foreign Land can tell us.