Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

In my effort to view illegal immigration from a Christian perspective, I have suggested that there are two essential biblical starting points. The first is Genesis 1, a passage that reveals the unique nature of human beings as bearers of God’s image and our unique calling to fruitfulness in life. Christians are taught in through this text to treat all people with dignity and to shape a world in which all people have the opportunity to live fruitful lives.

Even as you might have guessed that Genesis 1 would be one of my reliable starting points, given its placement as the first chapter of the Bible as well as its theological content, so you’ll probably be able to guess my second proposed starting point. When it comes to Christian reflection on any issue or concern, it’s always a fine idea to start with Jesus. He is, after all, God in human form. So if we want to know the mind of God about something, we do well to look to Jesus.

Jesus does not address the issue of illegal immigration in any specific way. Nor do we have a record of his relating to illegal immigrants per se. Nevertheless, Jesus provides plenty of grist for our mill as we consider the issue before us. I would like for us to reflect upon Jesus’ teaching, example, and impact. (Note: In the following discussion, I have been helped by a book by M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and The Bible. This is a very sane and wise book written by a biblical scholar who is also bicultural [American, Hispanic].)

Jesus’ Teaching and Illegal Immigration

The center of Jesus’ own preaching was the announcement of the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:14-15). In Jesus’ words and works and ultimately through the community formed in his name, God was beginning to establish his reign on earth. Thus Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). The kingdom of God is God’s reign over all things on earth, a reality in which God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. This sort of kingdom, according to Jesus, was on its way, beginning in his own ministry. (For much more on the teaching of Jesus, see my blog series: What Was The Message of Jesus?)

The justice of God goes hand in hand with the kingdom of God. Jesus portrayed himself as the one who, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, was authorized to implement justice for those who needed it most: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sign to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, based on Isaiah 61:1-2). Thus, Jesus instructed his followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness [or justice, dikaiosune in Greek can have either meaning]” (Matt 6:33).

One of the distinctive features of the kingdom of God, according to Jesus, was a reversal of earthly fortunes. In the so-called “Sermon on the Plain” in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours in the kingdom of god.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
For you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-21)

The news is not quite so good for those who are well off in this life:

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to your who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25)

In the “upside down” kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, love becomes the distinguishing mark of its citizens. Yet love is not reserved only for God and our neighbors, but even for our enemies:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

When we love people in tangible ways, this not only reflects the caring heart of God, but also it expresses our love for God. Jesus tells this story of the last judgment:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me'” (Matt 25:31-40).

good-samaritan-ipc-choir-5.jpgNotice who is included among those who received tangible acts of love: the stranger. The Greek word translated as “stranger” here is xenos, which can also mean “foreigner.” It denotes someone who is an outsider, who doesn’t belong. Jesus identifies with the xenos to such an extent that welcoming the xenos is welcoming Jesus himself. (Photo: The children’s choir at Irvine Presbyterian Church acting out the Parable of the Good Samaritan.)

In the parable we know as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus paints a picture of the archetypal xenos (from the first-century Jewish point of view) who loves another xenos, and thus becomes a model for all who would follow Jesus. In the kingdom of God, that which divides people from people fall away, replaced by love that knows no national or ethnic boundaries.

In tomorrow’s post we’ll see how Jesus models in his own life what he commends in his teaching. 

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