“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.” [Leviticus 25.23 / ESV]
We all long for stability. On some level, stability – along with pleasure – serves as one of the ultimate aims of all human pursuits. We do good in school so we can get into good colleges so we can get good jobs so we can be good providers so we can qualify for good spouses so we can…? We don’t want to simply enjoy life, but to enjoy it consistently over the “long haul.” Stability even becomes a basis for bragging among the wealthy who feel the need to discriminate between people with money and those with “old money.” Stability. On a less crass note, the very notion of “home” is dripping with the nectar of stability. Our social relations – and our standing within them – give us a sense of stability in our identity. Granted, they can also be a source of misery and insecurity, but when our relationships are firing on all cylinders, we can (almost subconsciously?) derive our very own sense of being from them.
On some level, this is the way God designed us to be as humans. We are social beings created by a God who is a society in himself. But all of our social (and physical) realities ultimately exist to point us to the ultimate reality: God. And that is what I love about this “out of the way” text in Leviticus. God is telling his people: “yes, you can privately own land – but you can’t own it forever.” In a highly agrarian society, land is everything…wealth, prestige, opportunity, and STABILITY. God does not say that these things are bad and his people should not have them. He IS saying that he doesn’t want his people to see mere land as the source of any of those things! Whatever wealth or stability the land brought you may be nice, but God can bring you all of that without any land. Because he is GOD, and the land is very much not God.
I think there may be a more radical message here. God goes a step beyond telling his people what they must do – he tells them why. God wants them to be strangers and sojourners on this earth, which, to me implies that we should not be looking for complete satisfaction in the here and now. God is presenting himself as a stranger and a sojourner in the earth. Whuh-hu-hoa! He is here among us, but he’s a stranger. In the original Hebrew this refers to a foreign shepherd and this can only make me think of Jesus, who is called the “Good Shepherd.” But the phrase that I’m taken by is “with me.” He wants us to be with him! And the scheduled disconnecting of ourselves from the very things that keep us stable pushes us to him, the only real and lasting sense of “home.”
Most of us are not farmers, so we don’t relate to having to give up land in quite the same way as the original audience of Leviticus would have, but like all humans in all times, we long for the stability that material things seem to provide. We get very comfy in our lives and fall for the deception that God wants us absolutely comfy. I’ve heard about the “God of all comfort,” yet I’ve never heard a message that presented God as a stranger on his own planet! And I’ve never heard an explicit call to be a stranger with him. And you can bet a buck or two that no preacher in his right mind has ever told me that because of my wicked heart, an intentional and regular separation from “my stuff” is essential to maintain a healthy union with this Stranger-God.
This world does not need Christians who are looking to the same things they do in order to find stability in life. This world needs to encounter the Strangers: a God and his people who are not of this world… [John 18.36 / ESV]