Are we not all strangers? 30th Sunday A 2017

Friends, today we are tempted to only accept intellectually the Christian life while its moral implications in the daily events of life do not seem to concern us. During the week, I had a conversation with someone who narrated to me how some Christian leaders say they are not interested in receiving refugees. I could hardly believe it and was shocked that this could be said by those who are called to be the shepherds of God's people. It is to all of us and especially to such people that the word of scripture re addressed to this day.

The words of the Bible are words to trust and live for. We need to hear what the Bible say today more than ever. These words are as topical today as they were when they were first said. The Lord said to Moses, "You shall not mistreat or oppress a foreigner. You have been strangers in the land of Egypt. " The Jews of ancient times and in modern times have been strangers in many countries. After the Revolt of 6 AD, the Jews were dispersed among all the people of the earth. It was only in 1948 that they could return to their home land to build the modern Jewish state.

The text we are reading today talks about Israel's obligations to strangers, widows and fatherless. In a special way, they are about how we treat those who have immigrated to us. In other words, we can say they are talking about immigration law, asylum and migration policy. Another topic dealt with in today's texts concerns how financial transactions between people should go. Throughout the ages, God has shown people what human dignity means. How is market economy and its influence in relation to humanity? Sweden and all countries have something to learn from the word of God and need the light of the gospel. By putting human value and the equal value of all people at the center, legislation, interpretation and application of laws can become more humane. In the first reading (Exodus 22: 21-27), we hear: "You shall not mistreat or oppress a stranger. ... you yourself have been strangers in the land of Egypt ". These words have an eternal validity. With globalization, these words could not be heard enough.

The journey from Egypt to Canaan would not have been possible without God's care and love with which he provided them with food and drink. All people are created in God's image and thus resemble God by having a rational soul. Migration is influenced by a combination of political, economic, environmental and social factors, either in the country of origin of the migrant or in the country of destination.

Refugees and migration issues have been the focus in recent years. Now, EU countries are trying to create a new system that allocates asylum seekers across all member states. Two countries: Poland and Hungary have opposed a redistribution. By 2015, a refugee stream came to the EU countries via Turkey and North Africa to an extent not previously seen. As a result, the EU countries decided by a large majority to spread asylum seekers who came to Greece and Italy to other EU countries. Four countries - Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voted against this. In the autumn of 2016, agreements were signed with Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali to reduce migration to the EU from there. In June 2017, the EU countries failed to reach a consensus on the new asylum policy, even though it was adopted as a target at the December 2016 summit in Brussels. Some countries refuse to receive refugees from the country's refugee quota. How could a country with mostly Christian leaders refuge to welcome those who are fleeing from war and oppression? This October, asylum issues have been discussed by EU migration ministers. The European Parliament is planning to vote for its position in the autumn.

Immigration and emigration have been a natural phenomenon since the beginning of time. In line with globalization, this has increased. In Sweden, one third of the population emigrated to other countries, especially to the United States beginning in the 1850s.

Today there are cross-border migration within nations and between nations. The expression that the world has become a global village is also correct in this context. Many countries today are multicultural. We meet people from other countries, cultures, languages, religion and colour. If you are in love with God, you cannot put economic calculations before human dignity. Certainly, the question of economy is prevailing in all international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization and many others national and financial institutions, multinational companies. Making as much profit as possible is the main purpose of these organizations. Human dignity, empathy and solidarity are in short supply. It's not people and their happiness that are at the center.

We are all strangers in this world. Are we not all pilgrims? We must not forget that nothing in this world belong to us in the true sense.  We are stewards of God's manifold gifts. The people who received the gospel in Thessalonica were aware that they would give what they received for free. Through our way of speaking, living and acting we can give another faith and hope to live.

Fear arises in situations where we feel personally threatened; worried about the present and the future, fear of lacking in something. Each time it's a matter of something natural. It is something we value and are afraid of losing. We fear that the new comers are going to displace us and take away our opportunities. Europe has major demographic challenges with shrinking populations and increasing numbers of older people. Nevertheless, there has been a clear trend to complicate migration and close Europe's borders outward. As people, we are used to making distinctions between different people in the world by mistakenly using the word 'race'. There are not two or more 'races' in the world but a single human race.   Though many we are one body, says the holy scripture.

For forty years the Jews wandered in the desert. God led the people among poisonous snakes, scorpions and terrible wilderness (Deuteronomy 82-3, 14b-16a). They became hungry and thirsty. God gave them manna to eat. He let water come out of the hard rock so that they and their cattle could drink. Desert wandering was a part of this preparation. It was not an easy time. To survive, they needed total confidence in God's providence. God was their patron and refuge. He gave them food to eat and water to drink. He was their light on the road, the lantern of their feet. An important purpose was to teach them to understand the importance of living through the word of God, the word of life. The Desert sojourn was also a terrible experience that would remind them that on earth all are pilgrims. During the wandering in the wilderness, they encountered poisonous snakes and scorpions and dried land where no water was found. Water is a symbol of life and renewal. In our lives we go through the desert of life that is necessary to reach the promised land.

Internal border controls currently implemented by five Schengen countries, including Sweden, are motivated by the aftermath of the 2015 migration events when a million people came to the EU via Greece and the so-called Balkan Route. Some urge a re-establishment of border controls between the Schengen States. However, the EU Commission does not rule out the need for border control between Schengen countries could arise for some other reasons.

In 2017 EU started trying to reach an agreement with Libya so that they could contribute in a number of ways to reducing migrant flow to Europe. The new policy also includes proposals that will allow countries outside the EU to reduce the number of migrants from their countries to the EU. The EU has an agreement with 17 countries to return citizens who do not receive asylum. Negotiations on readmission agreements are ongoing with five further countries, Morocco, Belarus, Tunisia, Nigeria and Jordan. Migrants face abuse when Italy cooperates with Libya to stop the migration wave to the country. To combat trafficking in human beings, the Italian government has made agreements with local tribes and militias in lawless Libya and sent boats in support of the Libyan Coast Guard's monitoring of migrant smuggling. On might ask why the smuggling? The EU has made it almost impossible for asylum seekers to legitimately apply for asylum in their countries of residence, thereby necessitating the business of smuggling.

In Sweden, the government is making a turning in asylum and family immigration and is now tightening migration policy with a new package of measures. Sweden's legislation is now adapted to significantly reduce the number of asylum seekers. We are deeply concerned about the consequences of the refugee stoppage for the people directly affected by the decision. The United States’ decision to stop unrestricted reception of refugees from, among others, Syria for an indefinite period is another hard blow to the people today flying away from today's most horrific war. The need for support to refugees and migrants worldwide has never ever been greater. This is another example of a migration policy where people in flight, not least children, have their rights violated. Politics means that families are forced back to countries where they are subjected to war, persecution, torture, rape and exploitation. Instead, we want to see an EU that defends the rights of refugees,

We see that the EU today is wrongly prioritizing security policy and border guard at the expense of the human rights of migrants and refugees. It is important that Sweden continues to be a pioneer country. When others close their borders and eyes to a horrific humanitarian disaster, we will open more doors. Millions of human lives are threatened, and refugee migration must be seen as a fate in our day. Therefore, the Lord's word to Moses and thus to us is more important today than ever before. The EU and Sweden's new migration policy leads to xenophobia and discrimination against people different from us. Tragically, it is that some people who once were asylum seekers and are now established support the hard treatment of new migrants. Imagine if we can all live according to the words of Jesus: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:40).

In Jesus' reply to the Pharisees, he summarizes the whole scripture: Shema Israel. What is the greatest commandment in the law? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. " On both rest the entire law and the prophets. Humans deserve respect. The reason for this is human dignity which goes beyond social status and gives everyone the same dignity. Love requires respect for individuals. Love rests on the same principle as Veritas and cannot be separated.

Unlike the Scribe’s 'teaching, power and authority followed Jesus' words. The unclean spirits obeyed him. The preaching of Jesus was not empty words. There was power in his words. The apostle Paul refers to this when he writes: "Our gospel did not come to you only as words but also with power and holy spirit, in full measure ...". On this basis, one could say that Jesus' teaching was practical. It speaks of a practical Christianity that is not just about words but is also confirmed in concrete works.

Perhaps we would expect the Pharisees to be more careful about how they attacked Jesus after hearing how speechless Jesus rendered the Sadducees. No, instead, they conspired on how to put him to another trial. Sometimes it's hard for us to accept that we are wrong. We want to fight and do everything for the truth to not see the light of the day. This is because we are blinded by our courage, spiritual pride and lack the feeling of shame and guilt. Only opening our hearts to the truth of Jesus will free us.  Chikezie Onuoha MSP

Webbdesign: Peter Tynkkynen