Read Genesis 43:32 – 34 and Exodus 23: 1 – 9 (with apologies for the missing Bible reference before)
The excerpt from the story of Joseph draws our attention to the differences between Egyptian and Hebrew culture. It can make us think of strangers in our midst; people whose day to day habits do not match our own; people whose food is prepared and served in ways we are unfamiliar with, whose clothing style is unusual in their setting. Many people find it difficult to accept the habits and traditions of other cultures seeing them as ‘alien’. They tend then to be wary of such strangers. The Hebrew’s teaching instructed that strangers must be treated well, and protected from harm. They understood what it is to stand out as different, to be a stranger in a strange land. ‘You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.’ In Jeremiah 14;8 God is also described as an alien.
This instruction can feel counter cultural, yet it is one that comes from God. God seeks to guide us to inclusivity rather than exclusivity, for if we see strangers as ‘alien’ we are immediately setting them apart and excluding them from full engagement in the place where they are. Many across the world presently are displaced from their homes because of war, violence, aggressive governments, lack of work and opportunities, poverty – all becoming exacerbated by the effects of a changing climate. So, it is very likely that we will see more ‘strangers’ in our communities seeking to rebuild their lives to have sufficient sustenance, a home a safe place for their family. They may not know the cultural habits of the places where they settle, but most are keen to learn, to understand, to contribute to their adopted society for the benefit of all.
Reflect How scary must it be to have to leave ones country and go into the unknown. The journey may hold enormous challenges and hardships. There are those along the way who will try to cheat, to take advantage, to steal what is precious, to be aggressive and violent for their own gain. Language can be a barrier to communicating, asking for help, for food, for directions. Imagine that the only food available is something you have never seen before. Consider the bravery needed simply to try a new dish. Think on a personal level when this has been an experience for you. How did you feel? How did you react?
Prayer Loving God as we meet people whom we have never met before may we be accepting of their differences, respectful of their culture and seek to find common ground. Help us to recognise that every human being was created by you, that we have so much that we share in our being and our lives. Make us brave to learn about other ways of living, other styles of dressing, other foods that we may find joy in the discoveries and grow greater understanding of your whole creation here on earth.