Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
In 2002, I went down to Egypt to study at Presbyterian seminary in Cairo. I had to escape the war in Palestine to continue my seminary education. My seminary promised to grant me a student visa upon my arrival. But the Egyptian government refused to grant me a visa because of my religious background. The immigration department gave me two weeks to leave Egypt. I asked the Palestinian Embassy to intervene, but the Egyptian government rejected their appeal. However, they made a deal with the Palestinian Embassy to keep my visa application pending until I finished my studies. I was unable to go back to Palestine because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As a result, I became an illegal immigrant in Egypt. I avoided any contact with the police. Deportation became my nightmare. One of my colleagues stole my money. Neither I was able to prove his sinful behavior to my seminary, nor I reported to the police because I was afraid of deportation. However, God blessed me in miraculous ways in Egypt. Jesus provided me everything I needed. God’s faithfulness followed me wherever I went. I have experienced God’s faithfulness that flows out of God unchanging nature and love for me.
In his final speech, Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s faithfulness to God’s promise to redeem them from their slavery in Egypt. To express their gratitude to God who brought them to the Promised Land, Moses commands them to celebrate the first harvest in June “by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you” (16:10 NRSV). “Now, in chapter 26, Moses provides the actual liturgy for that first-fruits celebration ritual.”
Moses commands the Israelites to bring the first fruit of the gifted land to the altar. The fruit is not a gift to the temple, but it should be shared among the Levites, the oppressed, the afflicted resident aliens. The alien identity of Israel is the center of their faith. They always need to remember their alien identity in Egypt. Moses needs them to remind themselves of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love when they were oppressed and afflicted resident aliens in Egypt. He commands them to offer a liturgical recitation along with their first fruits. “The recitation is confession of faith similar in form to the Christian creeds, which are also structured as narratives.”
Because the Israelites were oppressed and afflicted resident aliens in Egypt, Moses commanded them to sympathize with the resident aliens and the Levites by sharing the bounty of the land with them. The Levites were landless Israelite tribe. They did not inherit land because God was their portion. They were dedicated priests of God. The Israelites were obligated to take care of the Levites. They also needed to support the resident aliens among them. The Israelites shared a common story with the resident aliens because they were resident aliens in Egypt. An alien in Hebrew is (gēr); Scholar K. J. Tromp summarizes the use of gēr in the Old Testament as the following:
An alien (gēr) being, ‘a man who (alone or with his family) leaves village and tribe because of war, famine, epidemic, or blood guilt and seeks shelter and residence at another place, where his right of landed property, marriage, and taking part in jurisdiction, cult and war has been curtailed.
All of us are immigrants to this country. All of us share a common story with the new coming immigrants. All of us resonate one way or another with the story of the immigrants. This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. We focus on fasting and meditation. We come to worship services on Sundays and Wednesdays to be fed spiritually and contemplate on the passion of Christ. But the question is, what do you do for your afflicted neighbor when you leave the church? What do you do for the resident alien in your neighborhood after you finish meditating on the word of God? How do you express your faith? Giving up food is not the only answer. The answer is to take care of those who are powerless and disadvantaged. The Levites and the resident aliens are all over our country. How do you share the love of Jesus Christ with them? The book of Deuteronomy reminds the Israelites and us that God acts on behalf of the disadvantaged and blesses them with abundance. But God also invites us who experienced hardship and redeemed by God to act on behalf of the disadvantaged in the same way that God has acted. Jesus is inviting us to bless the afflicted resident aliens and the marginalized with abundance. This is the kind of fasting that God enjoys. Let us become agents of Jesus Christ in the world by redeeming the vulnerable and blessing the marginalized among us.
Sunday, March 10, 2019 1:04:00 PM