By Evan Johnson
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
- Deuteronomy 10:19
“No man's an island."
- John Donne
“Toto… I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…”
When Moses first refers to himself as a sojourner or as a stranger in a strange land, it’s not when he’s wandering in the desert with over a million Israelites. It’s when he’s a fugitive for murder and he flees to Midian. He found grace there in his soon-to-be father-in-law, Jethro, and his people. He has a son and names him Gershom, which means “for I was a stranger in a strange land.”
We can take this to mean two things. Meaning number one: Moses gives Gershom this name out of gratitude for the grace that a people showed a random foreigner who arrived on their doorstop. Meaning number two: Moses is describing his time in Egypt where he was a member of the Egyptian elite and his people were being enslaved, despite God’s promises to deliver them.
I think it’s both. I think this is a call of gratitude as well as a remembrance of the bizarreness of the world in which he lived. He understands that without the love and grace of Jethro and Zipporah, he would not have survived in a land that he merely wandered into, escaping from the law of his own country. In the same breath, he understands that the land that he came from was not the final destination for God’s people.
We see this longing reminder repeated throughout Scripture. Deuteronomy instructs the people of Israel to love those who sojourn into their midst since they were sojourners in the land of Egypt. Jacob and his tribe wandered into Egypt in search of food and shelter in a time of famine in Canaan, and for a while, that’s what they got, but a couple hundred years later, things changed. The Israelites were so vast in number that the Pharaoh believed they were becoming a political force in Egypt, so he enslaved them. God calls his people to remember this—to remember the struggles of a sojourner.
As Americans, it’s hard to sympathize with the sojourner. The examples we have from our past experiences pale in comparison to true stories of wandering and hopelessness that happen at the border and in Syria, and while there should be legal precedents to ensure the safety of Americans as well as those wandering from drug-ridden countries and war-torn nations, we need to remember that our ancestors—both Egyptian and Pilgrim—were sojourners, too. To ignore the needs of human beings with souls and smiles, words and faces, hands and feet, tears and laughter, is to ignore Jesus Christ himself according to his own words.
Having said that, America is not New Jerusalem. Someone who crosses the border into America steps into a whole new world of problems and dilemmas. We are not the city on a hill—and we never will be. The goal of the American experiment to be a beacon of light in an otherwise dim world is an admirable goal, but we, too, are still strangers in a strange land. Our eternal home—our true citizenship—is in the Kingdom of Heaven to come.
When Jesus Christ himself returns to declare all authorities subjugated and plants himself as King of the world, then and only then will this land not be strange. Eternal bliss will be and feel normal. The need to fight or to quarrel will be an instinct of the past. Everything will feel... well... right. Since the eternity of the New Jerusalem dwells within us, we are then motivated by seeing this pain-free, forever unbroken world come about. Brokenness should be strange to the Christian. Pain should be a foreign idea to those with a redeemed heart. As ministers of reconciliation, our marching orders are to make this world less strange, even for people who are themselves strange to us.
We need to ask two questions, though.
Who is the sojourner among us?
Maybe the sojourner is a literal sojourner. Maybe it is an undocumented immigrant. Maybe it’s a dreamer. Maybe it’s a refugee. Maybe it's someone who has been displaced. The heart of the church is to reach out and help those who are either without a home or their home has become so unrecognizable to them that they don't know what to call it.
Or, maybe the sojourner is a more figurative sojourner. Maybe it’s someone who doesn’t quite fit in. Maybe it’s an abused spouse. Maybe it’s a child who has been taken advantage of. Maybe it’s a person who doesn’t trust our skin color or religion at all. They are still sojourners, and we still were sojourners. As Christians, we have a source for mercy and compassion—the mercy and compassion that Christ has given us. This love is not ours to keep. It is ours to give.
How can we help the sojourner among us?
Reach out to the sojourner next to you--your neighbor, your co-worker, your family member. If someone you know is going through a strange and hard time, show them that welcoming love that Jesus has already shown us all. Remind them of his love and grace. This doesn't have to be through Bible verses. Simply being a friend can be a powerful enough presence in someone's life.
Reach out to different organizations in your areas. There are refugees all over America hiding in plain sight. There are undocumented immigrants that need our help in neighborhoods simply nearby.
The Church has a vital role to play in loving its neighbors.
And its neighbors are sometimes wanderers.
And those wanderers need mercy.