“Send them back to China or wherever they came from!”
“That’s what you get for eating bats and all those weird animals!”
These are some of the racist comments that emerged because of the novel coronavirus. It showed an ugly side of us Singaporeans. There’s probably many other ugly sides that are creeping to the surface, for example, panic buying of food items. But for now, we address the xenophobic comments that are prejudiced against people from other countries. These comments certainly are not helpful and instead provoke more rage and discrimination.
What does the Bible say to us about foreigners in our midst? Leviticus makes it clear:
Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
This laws were given to the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt. When we read God’s laws we understand his character. We see that God has a soft spot for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the defenseless. He has compassion on those that are weak and helpless.
So God reminds the Israelites not to abuse the foreigners in their midst. God knew it would be a problem. He knew that foreigners would be taken advantaged of and treated as lower-class citizens. The amazing thing is God’s love for them. He commanded Israelites to “love them as you love yourself”. That’s where we get Jesus’ greatest commandment in the Gospels (Mark 12:30-31). We are to love the foreigners just like we love ourselves. It can be tough. Really tough. When someone from a different culture looks different, smells different, talks different, behaves different. But God’s command still stands – love them as you love yourself.
God then gives the reason behind the command – “you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt.” It was a terrible time living in Egypt, being oppressed and stepped on. Because you once faced such terrible oppression, you know how a foreigner would feel like being oppressed by you. Sometimes, hard times can drive us to be more cruel to others or to be more compassionate to others. God, in his grace and mercy, rescued the Israelites from cruel slavery and brought them to wonderful promised land of enjoyment. He wanted them to be good masters who loved others in their midst, even the foreigners. It was a difficult lesson to absorb for the Jewish race. No wonder the Teacher of the Law could not believe that loving his neighbour included loving a Samaritan (Luke 10).
God wants us to love the foreigners in our midst because we once were foreigners ourselves. My great-grandparents were from China too before settling in Singapore. I wonder how they felt when they first came. If you can’t identify with being a foreigner, think about the first time you entered a new school or workplace and you know no one. Or another country where you can’t speak the language. It’s a terrible feeling to be harshly treated by others just because we’re new or different. And often we forget that initial feeling when a new person comes along.
Can we love the foreigner in our midst with God’s love? Jesus died for the sins of this world, even that foreigner, to bring us to God. All of us were in the same boat, headed for death and hell. But Jesus died to rescue us from eternal punishment. If Jesus died for everyone, it means all have worth in his sight. We are to love them as ourselves.