“When Pharaoh calls you, and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors’ – in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.” Genesis 46:33-34
As Joseph plans for his brothers and family to settle in Egypt, they have to work around a problem. The Egyptians don’t like sheep and shepherds, and Joseph’s family are shepherds with extensive flocks. So the family settles in Goshen, outside the capital, in an outlying area, where they won’t be disturbed by the prejudice of the Egyptians. So, even back in those days, new ethnic groups settled in ghettos, off by themselves, for protection and solidarity.
We are also told that the Egyptians would not eat with Joseph’s family for that was abhorrent to them. The Egyptians let the Hebrews come and stay in Egypt, but they are clearly not fully accepted or welcomed. Later, under a different Pharaoh, the Hebrews are forced to work as slaves.
In today’s world, we know intellectually that there are no justifiable reasons for this kind of division and bigotry. And we know that separate means unequal. Thousands of years have gone by since the time of the story of Joseph in Egypt and yet the same issues face humanity. We wonder when we will choose to move beyond these divisions and prejudices. When will we truly accept that in God’s eyes, there is but one race, the human race. And its diversity is vast and amazing. Something to embrace and be enriched by, not something to fear.
If anything, in America at this time the problems of ethnocentrism and classism seem to be increasing not decreasing. People publicly demonstrate against a homeless shelter in their area, or a half way house of some kind, before you even get to a different ethnic group, skin color, or a community of legal refugees.
Our Christian faith teaches us that everyone is our neighbor and we are to love our neighbor. That means we are to work for the well being of our neighbor. Today, with the migration of populations which will continue to increase, we are needed to speak up and welcome all. Lent would be a good time to befriend someone who is different from you in some way.
God is beyond our knowing and beyond our imagining. A hint of the amazing creativity of God can be seen in the vast diversity of the human population. May we see this diversity as a divine gift and appreciate it. Amen.