You Were Once Aliens

“You Were Once Aliens”
A reflection on Exodus 22:21(20) and Matthew 22:34-40
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
©️2023 Gloria M. Chang

Thus says the LORD: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21(20)

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Lessons from Egypt

Whom God chooses, he exiles.

The Hebrew word for “alien” or “stranger” (ger) first appears in Genesis during Abram’s dream, when God speaks to him about his descendants. 

Then the Lord said to Abram: Know for certain that your descendants will reside as aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.  But I will bring judgment on the nation they must serve, and after this they will go out with great wealth.

Genesis 15:13-14

Thus, God’s covenant comes with a promise and a prophecy. According to Rabbinic commentators, Egypt’s enslavement of Israel mirrors Abraham and Sarah’s oppression of Hagar, their Egyptian maidservant, whom they banished along with her son Ishmael (Genesis 21:9-21). Had God not directly intervened by providing water, the Egyptian and her son would have perished in the blistering desert.

In Hebrew, Hagar’s name sounds like “the stranger” (hager). Did God’s four hundred-year lesson teach the Israelites to treat foreigners with compassion? Jesus reminds the scribes and Pharisees that love of God and neighbor sums up the law and the prophets.

Strangers and sojourners, you shall not wrong,
For in Egypt, you too did not belong.

Traditional Chinese Translation


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