What to do about the “stranger within thy gates” is an age-old question. Immigration struggles are not new. Neither is the legal question of how to manage migrating populations seeking a better life.
The Ten Commandments were initially addressed to a growing, migrating Jewish tribe. “The stranger within thy gates” is mentioned in the Fourth Commandment, which instructs that everyone in our territorial midst – from our families and those under our influence to the face in the crowd – would now be blessed under the new law, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20:8-10). This new Sabbath ruling was a great equalizer, giving everyone from household member and beasts of burden to the man on the street a break. For some, the Fourth Commandment refers to little more than a day off from work and perhaps a round of golf. For others, it signifies the worship of God and time spent with family.
Worship, family, leisure – these are all good things. But we shouldn’t overlook the commandment’s illustration of the delicate and necessary balance that exists between blessing and obligation, that in accepting the blessing ourselves we must also consider those around us. The balance between blessing and obligation is critical to the immigration debate and applies to all sides and parties. Considering this balance under moral law separates human from beast, and can shift the discussion from self-interest to the spiritual, moral, and legal solutions that exclude no one.
There is a good reason that servants, cattle, and strangers are included in the Sabbath rest. A full one-out-of-seven-day pause to reflect on the needs of others – family, neighbors, workers, and strangers in our gates – isn’t a bad idea.
And as Moses clarified, Sabbath prayer includes remembering your own roots. He said, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15, New International Version). Recalling our own life struggles and lessons learned, we can balance discipline with compassion. Experience shows that the best public policy calls forward the moral elements in individuals while ruling out behaviors that hold back collective progress.
In a passage headed “Prayer for country and church,” Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “May our Father-Mother God, who in times past hath spread for us a table in the wilderness and ‘in the midst of our enemies,’ establish us in the most holy faith, plant our feet firmly on Truth, the rock of Christ, the ‘substance of things hoped for’ – and fill us with the life and understanding of God, and good will towards men” (“Christian Science versus Pantheism,” p. 15).