Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Ex 22:20-26
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
2) 1 Thes 1:5-10
Gospel: Mt 22:34-40
When God led Israelite slaves out of Egypt, some 3,000 years ago, they had very little idea what he was about. He guided them in the wilderness of Sinai, provided for their needs in remarkable ways, then told them that he wanted to establish a permanent relationship with them as a group. “Listen to my voice,” he said, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” Who could have known?
God’s idea was that the Israelites would be a kind of demonstration project for the world. He wanted everyone to come to live in intimacy with him and harmony with one another. He would mold the Israelites into an example of what this could look like.
Of course, it would be worked out according to the Israelites’ particular circumstances: the little villages of Canaan (Palestine, Israel), where they were headed and would be small-scale farmers and raisers of livestock.
God laid out the basics of the relationship in the Ten Commandments. These called the Israelites to take him alone as God and deal justly with each other. Then he elaborated. In what is now Chapters 21-23 in the Book of Exodus, God provided specifics for their living as a people in fairness and mutual care. Today’s first reading includes a few of these.
Don’t lend at interest, God says. When your neighbor runs out of food and seed, lend him what he needs without charging him interest, because how can an impoverished farmer pay you interest without starving or ending up in debt slavery?
If you make a loan and take your neighbor’s cloak as security, give it back at the end of the day. His cloak is his blanket. He doesn’t have anything else to sleep in.
Don’t oppress aliens who live among you. This is remarkable! In the legal codes of no other ancient Near Eastern people were there laws protecting foreigners.
What a just society looked like around 1200 B.C. is different from what it might look like today, not because justice and solidarity are different, but because of changes in economics and technology. We can’t simply import precepts from Exodus 21-23 into the United States in 2020. But we can let these ancient laws inspire us to think deeply about what a just society would look like in our world.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.