Preying on the powerless…

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Scripture: Ezra 10:9 Then all the people of Judah and Benjamin (recently returned from exile in Babylon) assembled at Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. All the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now make confession to the LORD the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” 12 Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said”…44 All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.

Observation: God’s people had just returned from decades of captivity in Babylon. They understood correctly it was their sin that had resulted in God’s withdrawal of divine protection and had opened the way for Babylon to conquer Israel in the first place. So now that they’d returned home, they were concerned not to repeat their former mistakes. One potential problem became obvious. In their time away from Israel, many of the men had taken foreign wives in violation of the law found in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 7:and when the Lord your God gives (the nations) over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods.

So in response, the people agreed to do something horrible – to send their foreign-born wives and children away from Jerusalem (v.44). This is heartbreaking. One can imagine the crying and wailing as thousands of loved ones were forced to leave Israel. And as is so often the case, the ones who paid the heaviest price were the most vulnerable – women and children.

Application: Our passage for today reminds me of the drastic sorts of actions people will take when we’re feeling vulnerable – when we believe our identity, our safety, our security are threatened. This was true in Ezra’s time and it’s true now.

One cannot help but see the parallels between Ezra’s story and the story unfolding in our own country as the crackdown on undocumented immigrants continues. Are there some criminal elements among the millions of such immigrants in question? Of course – but it’s a tiny fraction of the total, as is true for the rest of the population. For the most part, the undocumented among us are harmless if not beneficial to our economy. Furthermore, they are refugees from war, from poverty, from despotic rulers in their home countries. They do jobs no one else wants to do, for wages no one else would accept.

When Jana and I were first married we lived in a house out in the country in central Texas. The owners of the house lived next door. They were farmers who regularly hired undocumented Mexican immigrants to work their land. As you might expect on a farm, there were several barns and shops and storage facilities to house animals and equipment. In one of those barns was a make-shift sleeping quarters for the workers. To suggest it was primitive would be an understatement. Bunks were made of wooden slats. There was no proper bathroom. There was no heating or cooling. The men would freeze in the winter and roast in the summer.

In the two years we lived there I made a point to befriend some of the workers. I would invite them in to take showers, to eat with us at dinner, to enjoy some friendly conversation though my Spanish was (and remains) not very good. In short, I tried to treat the with respect, as human beings. And it made me angry when I would see people publicly excoriate “illegals” while privately profiting from their labor.

Powerless people are easy targets.

Today it’s important to remember what the word of God has to say about treatment of “illegal aliens”:

Leviticus 19:33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us when we make the most vulnerable among us bear the brunt of our own sins. Help us to see where we profit from their exploitation. Give us grace to stand up for justice – for the alien – whenever given the opportunity. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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