Deuteronomy 24:14  “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.”


Some of the Old Testament laws sound really bizarre, and we scratch our heads about why they’re there.  Others seem unduly harsh.  If the Old Testament laws were still in force, there would not be many children left in Westford…it seems like they were sentenced to death for the slightest infraction!  But then there are other laws that seem as current as the nightly news, and this one from Deuteronomy 24 is a prime example.


Immigration reform has been all across the headlines in these last weeks.  People are entering the United States illegally every single day and especially our border towns are groaning under the weight.  Of course we asked for it.  There’s this statue in New York harbor that proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores.  Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Millions have taken us up on that offer, and now we’re not sure what to do.


I don’t pretend to have the answers for what specific legislation ought to be passed.  That’s not my strength.  But there are Biblical principles that can guide Christians who wrestle with the questions.  The first of those principles is in this law from Deuteronomy.  When the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” arrive here—legally or otherwise—we are not to exploit them for cheap labor.  If we are going to be freed from the issues surrounding illegal immigration, we have got to be willing to let go of our greed.  Corporate greed that wants to be freed from paying a living wage or benefits must be stopped, and we consumers must be willing to pay a bit more for our goods and services so that businesses truly struggling can treat workers fairly and stay afloat.


When our Daily Walk program starts reading in the prophets in a few months, you’ll see that they yell about the lack of justice for the poor a lot.  At the root of that is often the reminder for Israel that they were once slaves in Egypt.  The descendants of Jacob poured across Egypt’s borders because there was a great drought in Canaan that had resulted in years of severe famine.  Israel was once the “wretched refuse” of Canaan’s shores, and they ran to Egypt to be fed.  Their end was slavery.  There is a special place in the laws of Moses for the alien living in the land because they remember what it was like.


It also seems obvious that we should not be faulting the hungry for going to a place that promises bread.  I often wonder what would happen if the citizen militias who have taken it on themselves to patrol our southern border put as much effort into boosting the economy of Mexican border towns.  Suppose we worked to make Mexico a prosperous place that no one felt they needed to run from?  Wouldn’t everybody win?


Probably there are a thousand reasons why that won’t work…just like there are thousands of reasons why “love your enemy” is not a practical philosophy.  But I think that, practical or not, the principle of not exploiting the poor, even the “alien living in one of your towns,” is still the standard we are called to live by, and our Christian duty to care for the poor doesn’t stop at the Mexican border.  Certainly we need secure borders to defend against terrorism and to keep out smugglers, gangs, and others seeking our harm.  But I think there must be a better way to deal with those we have expressly invited…the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Both Moses and Jesus call us to a higher standard.


God of the alien living in our towns and the citizens of our land, help us all to find our way to justice.  Amen.


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