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Which will we choose?

In these days of wondering how to deal with those who are different — with immigration reform, with the struggle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with all of the issues that come up with people who are not like us — we might think the Bible doesn’t have much to say.

But actually the Bible has a lot to say and not just in individual verses.

The defeat of the people of Israel and the sending of the top classes of their society into exile in 587 was one of the big watersheds in the Judeo-Christian tradition. 

The people wondered: Why did this happen? Why did God do this to us? And now that this has happened, what do we do?

If you read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, what you discover is that the people believed that their humiliation was the result of God’s anger against them for being faithless. When the people returned from exile, they took a hard line against all of those who had married people of the surrounding countries. They were told to get rid of their spouses, to cut them off and send them back to where they came from. They were big into purity, in being completely unsoiled by the surrounding culture and totally devoted to God.

There were two other books of the Bible, though, that took a different approach. In the books of Jonah and Ruth, we find God’s grace being found in the lives of foreign people. Rather than being roadblocks to faith, the outsiders were considered great examples of faith.

In Jonah — which is more famous for being a fish story — God gives the message of repentance to the Ninevites, the people who had destroyed the northern tribes of Israel. 

These were about the last people anyone would want to be saved. But God gives Jonah the message and — after a fish-induced detour when he tried to run away — Jonah brings the message to the Ninevites that they need to change direction. And they heard it and obeyed.

In our days of distrusting people who are not like us and who are outsiders, whether it be immigrants or those who practice another religion or even those who have not grown up in this part of the world, these words are important.

We can find all kinds of reasons to exclude other people, and Ezra and Nehemiah can give you justification for that. Or we can find all kinds of reasons to include and embrace others, no matter where they are from. Jonah and Ruth show us that way.

Which will we choose?

Rev. Dr. Tom Robinson is pastor of Farmville Presbyterian Church. His email address is robin216@embarqmail.com.