When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
I am talking to my neighbor and friend, Rosa. I’m sitting in her apartment, eating her food, listening to her story. She tells me how, ten years ago, she left her two tiny daughters behind and traveled to a new country—my country—because she could find no other way to earn enough money to keep them safe and care for their most basic needs. The journey was horrible, threatening (and nearly taking) her life.
She works here now, long hours and hard labor, for little money and no legal protection. She can think of no way that she will see her daughters again, but because of the few hundred dollars she sends back each month, they have a future. And so, despite the work and the sorrow, she is joyful. She trusts in the compassion of God.
It is one thing to read this story and quite another to hear a friend tell it, looking in her eyes and sharing her food. For one horrible moment I try to imagine a life where my children lacked basic safety, food, water, shelter; where they could thrive only if I left them behind for a foreign land. In all the worst-case scenarios that run through my head, this one has never, ever, come up. It is unthinkable. And yet, the unthinkable is reality for many of my neighbors.
Whether or not these men and women, boys and girls have legal papers, my orders come from the King; his command is that I care for my neighbor as I care for my own self.
Jesus taught that the entire canon of scripture can be summed up in this way: Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. He then used a parable to explain that “neighbor” doesn’t just mean those living next door, but anyone we encounter in need.
Where I live, many of my neighbors are immigrants. So, in both the literal and figurative sense of Jesus’ command, immigrants are my neighbor. I am commanded to love them just as earnestly and faithfully as I love God himself. Whether or not these men and women, boys and girls have legal papers, my orders come from the King; his command is that I care for my neighbor as I care for my own self.
As I study the Bible, both Old and New Testament, a few themes stand out to me again and again: God’s unrelenting love for all creation and his commitment to provide justice to the oppressed and relief for those who suffer. In the early church, followers of Jesus were imprisoned and persecuted because of their radical kindness, compassion, and generosity. These resurrection people had been freed from their fear of earthly governments, economic powers, and death; and as result, they followed only King Jesus. In doing so, their brazen acts of compassion threatened the established social and political powers.
But these Jesus-followers were so full of joy and hope and boldness that their rejoicing and freedom were contagious. It was hard to imprison or persecute them because doing so clearly highlighted the self-serving injustice of the powers threatened by them.
Consider these words, written by the Roman Emperor Julian, regarding the shameful behavior of the Christians:
“…observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause…For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our [people] are in want of aid from us.”
These days, the word “Christian” can mean anything. You can write a poem of hate and bigotry and post it to your blog titled “A Christian Poem.” You can spend all your life’s energy gaining wealth by overlooking and extorting the vulnerable in your community, then write a book about your methods called “The Christian Way.” A thousand people might read it and be discipled toward greed, fear, and hate in Jesus’ name. This isn’t so far-fetched; every day I hear the fear and mistreatment of immigrants, refugees, and minorities described as righteousness.
Let’s put labels aside and consider the fruit as Christ taught us to do. Following Jesus still means loving God and loving your neighbor as you love yourself, with all your heart and mind and strength. Being part of a Christian community still means sacrificing your own rights and well-being to seek justice with compassion for those in need, whether they be neighbor, stranger, or enemy. Even the immigrant—documented or undocumented.
There is no constitutional or legal requirement for Americans to live this way. But King Jesus does require this of Christians.
May we, like my hard-working neighbors, like the earliest Christians, live with so much joyful generosity toward our neighbors that the governments and powers of our world can’t help but notice the disruption of our compassion.
May your Kingdom come, Lord Jesus.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27