It was seldom a natural virtue in tribal communities to welcome members of other tribes, but more usual to accept and provide for their own disadvantaged – though even there boundaries were drawn, excluding for example the twins that Mary Slessor rescued in Nigeria.
In Britain today we have a less than glorious mixture: an NHS which is still hospitable at the point of need, a benefits system which provides grudging hospitality, and immigration laws which prove inhospitable to those who cannot prove their need to a politically acceptable standard.
The challenge of Leviticus is that the poor and alien were both included within the current economic system and left to do their own gleaning – not the modern foodbank syndrome. In other words, hospitality was not banished to a stigmatised second room. It’s hard to avoid – in Jesus’ time it was assumed that the slave would eat separately and subsequently to the master (Luke 17: 7-10) and it was left to a foreign woman to challenge Jesus with the rights of foreign dogs to eat at the master’s table (Matthew 15:7).
A prayer to offer: Lord, today I will live and work in a society where everyone has their own bubble, their own cell with glass walls, maybe a comfort zone, maybe something very different. Help me to look fairly, even favourably, on those alien to me. For the sake of him who knew the life of a refugee in Egypt, and the insecurity of life pursued by the powerful in his own country, even Jesus Christ, Amen.
A thought to glean: What is my harvest field, my vineyard? Where are its edges? How does it help any who are not in my immediate circle?
9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.