In Numbers 15, in a strange chapter which reverts back to instructions about offerings, we read this:
14 For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do. 15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: 16 The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.’” (Numbers 15:14-16)
Now to us, living in these politically correct days, this may not seem like anything special. But think about it. God has chosen a people for himself, selected from all the peoples of the earth, to be his special ones, his Chosen People. They are accorded the incredible privilege of being the vehicle through which God intends to show his glory to the whole earth. They are to be the city on a hill, the shining example of what it means for a people to be in right relationship with the Creator, the Lord of the Universe. This is an incredible, exclusive privilege.
But what do we have here? “Oh, and if an alien (i.e. not one of the Chosen) happens to be living among you, his sacrifices will be assessed in exactly the same way as yours. All the rules and regulations will apply the same way.”
What? No visa? No Green Card? No lengthy application process or waiting list? He simply follows the same rules and his sacrifice is as acceptable to God as those of his Chosen people.
I find this astonishing, since it goes against a primal human instinct which is the protection of privilege for your own tribe. In almost all societies there is a clear delineation between those who are IN and those who are OUT, between those who belong, and those who do not, between the native born and the newcomers.
This is not unusual. A friend of mine who is a missionary in China tells me he is still considered an outsider, despite having lived and worked there for over 25 years. When we hear about an international tragedy, say, a tsunami that has killed thousands, we are more interested when we are told that Americans, or British are among the dead. As though an American life, or a British life is worth more than an Indonesian life. We think this way because we care about OUR tribe, and not so much about others.
Yet here, in the midst of commands to the exclusive chosen people of God, is an allowance, one might even say, an invitation to become part of the religious life of the community. This is a partial fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that through him all peoples on Earth (not just his tribe or his people) would be blessed.
Despite the fact that the covenant relationship was at first exclusive, we cannot deny that the gospel is radically Inclusive. In the eyes of God, there are not outsiders, none who should not be invited. All are welcome. No one is excluded.
So let’s make this personal for a moment. When people interact with us, do they sense the invitation, or do they sense that they are an unwelcome outsider? When they enter our church, are they included or made to feel that they do not belong, that they are not part of the IN-crowd?
The gospel means treating no man as stranger, no man as alien. Each person we meet is a potential brother or sister in Christ that we might just spend eternity with. In the eyes of God, there are no ordinary people.
To quote C.S. Lewis:
“It is a serious thing,” says Lewis, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
Our mission surely is to turn aliens into brothers and sisters, to value every human as God does, to make the invitation explicit and invite no one to remain on the outside.