We will hear this admonition in the scripture readings for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Oct 28th). These are scripture verses easily made into arguments supporting political ideologies. The first reading from Exodus will be followed by the gospel text giving us the first and second greatest commandments:
"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."
The admonitions in Exodus are implicitly contained in the Gospel. Loving one’s neighbor extends to the alien, the widow and orphan, and the poor. It forbids exacting interest or harsh loans. These texts are the basis for much of Jewish and Chrstian movements to promote social justice.
These readings bring thoughts of modern applications to the questions of legal and illegal immigrants into the United States. This has been the subject of much political commentary, much of it filled with resentment and anger. These feelings result, I suggest, from the tendency of both liberals and conservatives to convert their political ideologies into idols. Elizabeth Scalia writes about this in her book Strange Gods; Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life.
There is a remedy for this. When we find ourselves “idolizing” one particular set of political opinions, we should remember that we, ourselves were once “aliens in Egypt.” This thought may seem strange and impossible, especially for those of us who have never been to Egypt. We can understand how this might apply by taking a lesson from Deuteronomy 26:5-6 on how the Hebrews were to read scripture. It tell us that when you make your offering to the Lord, this is what you shall say:
“…‘A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.”
From the Hebrew point of view, what happened to their father in the past, also happened to them. They were enslaved along with their ancestors - and freed in the Exodus.
We can also interpret “once aliens yourselves in Egypt” in a contemporary spiritual sense. As Elizabeth Scalia writes, it is all to easy to become over-involved in the things of this world. When we do, our dedication to political causes such as opposing or supporting immigration reform, can cause to become resentful and even hateful. This is especially true when politicians and talk show hosts are all too willing to stir up hatred and anger for their own purposes. When these attitudes dominate our thinking we have become slaves to a political idol.
If we can remember that we were aliens and in some sense in Egypt as slaves to an idol, we can look on immigrants as real persons search for a better life. If we do that, our version of immigration reform will strike a balance between conflicting political opinions.