Christians and Immigration - Introduction
Christians and Immigration Part One - The Old Testament (pt. 1)
Christians and Immigration Part Two - The Old Testament (pt. 2)
Also, I have been relying heavily on the work of M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. He is professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary.
Jesus the Refugee
Jesus, as a child, was a refugee. The Gospel of Matthew shares that shortly after Jesus' birth his family had to escape to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15). King Herod found out that a new king was born he was "disturbed" (Matt. 2:3). As a result, Herod searched for the newborn king in order to have him killed. Thanks the the warning from an angel, Joseph was able to take baby Jesus and Mary and together under the cover of night they fled to Egypt. Matthew is the only Gospel that records this event. We are not told anything about the trip or their stay in Egypt. Historically there was a large population of Hebrews in Egypt, so perhaps they stayed with them while m seeking asylum in this foreign land. The trip was also fairly short, probably only around two years or so. M. Daniel Carroll R. points out the importance of this truth regarding the issue of immigration today: "The migration of this family locates the Jesus story within a movement that spans history, of people desiring a better life or escaping the threat of death" (p. 116).
Jesus' Personal Encounters
Israel, and the surrounding areas, at the time of Jesus was a very complicated place both politically and religiously. For example, the were religious differences between the Samaritan Jews and the Jews who worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshipped on a different mountain, had their own priesthood, and their own special beliefs and rituals. To the other Jews they were viewed as perverting the faith. As a result, there was a long and often violent history between the two. This makes the account in John 4 all the more interesting and pertinent to out discussion. In John 4 Jesus and his disciples are passing through Samaria and Jesus stops at a well to rest while the disciples go in search of something to eat. While at the well Jesus encounters a Samaritan women. M. Daniel Carroll R. explains the significance of the conversation that followed: "In Jewish tradition Samaritan women were considered to be always unclean; they were categorized as mensrutants from the cradle. That this woman is of questionable repute (John 4:16-18) makes Jesus' dialogue with her even more impressive" (p. 118). The woman arrives at the well to draw water alone. This was something that was usually done in groups. The text points out that she was a woman who was not chaste. Most likely she went to the well alone to avoid shame or ridicule. While there she encounters Jesus and he asks her for a drink. M. Daniel Carroll R. continues: "If he were to drink water from a vessel given to him by this woman, Jesus would render himself ritually impure. Jesus, however, does not hesitate" (p. 119, emphasis added).
Another encounter involving Jesus and a Samaritan is found in Luke 17. In this account Jesus is close to Samaria and he hears ten lepers calling out (Luke 17:11-13). The lepers, following the Jewish Law, stand off in the distance. Jesus instructs them to go show themselves to the priests, also following the law since the priest was the one to declare whether one was clean or not. In doing this Jesus is making them clean. However, only one the ten cleansed lepers comes back to thank Jesus for what he has done. It is at this point that the text reveals an important piece of information: this man was a Samaritan (Luke 17:16). The faith of this Samaritan, a foreigner in all sense and purposes (Luke 17:18), is held up as one possessing exemplary faith.
M. Daniel Carroll R. summarizes nicely the importance of both John 4 and Luke 17 with these words:
In both encounters the these Samaritan individuals are doubly outcast. To begin with, both are Samaritans. What is more, the first was morally suspect, the second a leper. Jesus transcends the longstanding enmity between the Jews and Samaritans. He accepts the "other," and they accept him. In all of this, Jesus never ceases to be a Jew. Yet, he is able to integrate his cultural core with other transcendent commitments and gracious attitudes that move him beyond the closed society of his peers (p.120).Jesus' Teaching
An important teaching of Jesus, which interestingly enough involves another Samaritan, can be found in Luke 10. This account is often called The Good Samaritan. Someone asks Jesus the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answers the question with a parable. He tells the story of a man robbed and beaten and left on the side of the road. A priest happens upon the man and quickly scurries to the other side of the road and avoids the man. Most likely this had something to do with purity laws. Then a second man, a Levite, happens upon the man. The result is the same as the first. Then a third man, a Samaritan, happens upon the injured man. But he takes him, cleans and bandages his wounds, places him on his donkey and takes him to an inn where he proceeds to pay for the man's stay. Then Jesus asks the questions, "Which one was a neighbor to the man?" The obvious answer is the Samaritan. Once again the Samaritan is held up as an example of faith to be emulated (Luke 10:37). "Once again, the people of God are taught about true faith through an encounter with one outside and rejected by their culture" (p. 122).
Another passage to consider is Matthew 25:31-46. This passage is part of the longer passage referred to as the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:1-25:46). Jesus is about to go the the cross and this discourse seems to focus upon eschatological issues and the future judgement. In this passage Jesus points out that those who were obedient will be separated from those who were not. The obedient will go off to eternal blessing while the disobedient will go off and experience eternal torment. "The divine decision regarding merited eternal blessing and eternal judgment are based on how people have treated the Son of Man/King and the 'least of these brothers of mine'" (p. 122). Pertinent to our discussion is Jesus' use of the word "stranger" (or "foreigner"). Jesus uses this term in context with the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and "imprisoned." And these are referred to as the "least of these brothers of mine (Matt. 25:40, 45). Ultimately, to ignore any of these is to ignore Jesus himself.
While this brief look at the Gospels does not reveal any explicit teaching on immigration, there is still relevant teaching on the issue. Jesus himself experienced migration which is in accord with the picture we saw in the Old Testament. Jesus himself was a "stranger" in a foreign land. M. Daniel Carroll R. points out that the stranger in Matthew 25 is a disciple in a foreign land (p.124), however, this demonstrates that we must be ware of how we treat those from other lands. They may be believers which makes them our "brothers" or "sisters" in Christ.
As Jesus interacted with and held up other cultures (Samaritans) as an example, we must be willing and ready to tear down walls that could possibly divide people. "The point here is that Jesus confronts the identity question head on through what he does with Samaritans...Jesus lays aside the exclusivistic and mores and negative feelings of his cultural heritage toward Samaritans for more important things: their value as persons and the potential of their faith" (p. 125). The actions and attitudes of Jesus go beyond one's cultural identity and help to define for us what it means to be his follower (p. 125).
As followers of Jesus we must always be aware of those outside, those in the margins of society. Jesus interacted with the outcasts, women, lepers, the sick, the dead and dying and even the strangers and foreigners. As we follow him we must be ever alert and follow in his footsteps. To profess faith in Jesus is to believe what he believed, to live as he lived, to act as he acted. We are called to imitate him in life and that includes making room for the strangers among us.
There is so much more we could talk about, but this is a blog not a book. There are the passages that refer to Christians as "aliens" and "strangers" in this present world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). There are passages that touch on hospitality, similar to the Old Testament passages we examined (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). So then, while the New Testament doesn't directly deal with immigration, one cannot escape the many biblical injunctions that do in fact deal with the issue.
In our next post we will try to summarize and conclude our series on the Christian and the issue of immigration.