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written by Constance Morgenstern

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"Lord God of All, Forgive Us"

"More is ‘caught’ than is ‘taught.’” Have you ever heard that saying?
It expresses how children are more likely to act in ways that their parents actually model, rather than following teachings delivered only in words. The children “catch” the way to behave from the patterns of the household. It might apply to profanity, drug-use, treating each other with respect, etc.

I think the saying also relates to our attitudes, as Christians, about the welcome of refugees. Stay with me, while we briefly consider the “taught” part.

In the earliest books of the Bible, God outlined His ways of living for the people of Israel. You probably know that the Ten Commandments and many other instructions were laid out to produce good will and justice for the people. You might be surprised to know, though, that these instructions also mention how to treat non-Israelites living among them. In fact, God said that the non-Israelites should be treated with the same justice (Leviticus 24:22).

(These non-Israelites are called by different words in different translations of the Bible. Your Bible might say ‘“foreigners,” “strangers,” “sojourners,” or even “aliens”—but that’s come to mean something else! Words today might be “immigrant,” “migrant,” or “refugee.”)

Besides being given the same justice, the foreigners were to be treated with compassion (Leviticus 19:33-34). When reaping or harvesting the bounty of the land, God said that harvesting should be intentionally loose. That way, some grain, olives, or grapes would be left behind for the poor, the widows, the ‘fatherless’ and the foreigners (Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

In giving such principles, God showed how He cares about foreigners (Psalm 146:9). He also reminded the people of Israel that they knew what it was to be foreigners themselves (Exodus 22:21). They had so recently lived in Egypt!

(Here’s the backstory: The first Israelites—the family of Jacob and his many sons—had moved to Egypt originally because of a famine. One favorite son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but had risen high in Egypt’s government after he interpreted a dream of Pharaoh's which predicted years of poor crops. With this knowledge, Egypt had stored food for the upcoming famine. When food became scarce back home, the rest of the family sought it out in Egypt. Eventually, they settled there (Genesis 37, Genesis 39-47).

Many years later, the numerous Israelites were being treated as slaves by the Egyptians. God called Moses to tell the Pharaoh of his time to "let my people go." After a series of awful plagues, the killing of all Egypt's firstborns finally induced Pharaoh to let them leave. Even then, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his armies after the Israelites. The armies were drowned in the Red Sea during another miraculous intervention by the Lord (Exodus 1-14).

After that, the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for many years before regaining their homeland.)

So, the people of Israel did know what it was like to be foreigners, not only during Old Testament times, but in later years, too. Even today's Christians in the US—because of our increasingly secular society—might get a small taste of feeling foreign (1 Peter 2:11).

But, we also know, as Christians, how it is to be welcomed!

Jesus himself was a model of welcoming—whether he touched a leper with healing (Mark 1:40-42), prayed for children (Matthew 19:13-15), or ate meals with a town’s known “sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17). Disease, status, age, or past history did not stop Jesus from reaching out to people.

Neither did gender or nationality. In John 4:4-42, Jesus speaks at length—and quite candidly!—to a woman from Samaria. In fact, his disciples were shocked to find him speaking with a woman (verse 27). In verse 9, we are told as well that Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other. Yet, because of Jesus’ bold interaction with the woman, many Samaritans came to believe in Him (verse 39).

In the course of his ministry, Jesus even performed a healing for (and praised the faith of) a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)!

We also know that Jesus clearly intended that his disciples carry His message to “all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20). And we know, from the famous parable of the sheep and the goats, that Christ values the welcome of strangers (Matthew 25:31-46). He preached it. He modeled it.

Christ’s followers, then, had both been taught and “caught” that welcome is important to God. The apostle Paul beautifully expresses how lines of gender, status, or nationality have no bearing on God’s acceptance (Galatians 3:26-28 and Colossians 3:11).

Have you had enough chapter and verse to be convinced yet? What I really hope, however, is that you’ve experienced Christ’s welcome for you, or seen glimpses of God’s acceptance through Christian friends or an inclusive atmosphere at your church!

Some congregations really shine at welcoming. I remember worshipping one Sunday (at the beginning of a vacation with my husband) in a delightful congregation. The next Sunday (at the end of the vacation), we were singing in the choir! Other congregations I have visited have said, “Stay for lunch!”

I love how, at church music conferences, it is common to sit down at meals with a total stranger and strike up a conversation. Age, gender, nationality,…. No matter.

This, to me, is a preview of how God’s Kingdom will be. May you experience this yourself! For welcoming, I do believe, the “caught” part really counts!


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