Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are clear and consistent about immigration. Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry, and parable, the Bible consistently spells out the responsibility of the citizen. The citizen is to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for. While this is what God wants us to do, the Bible also recognizes we are immigrants too. And immigrants we remain.
“Like my forebears, I am an alien, resident with you.” Psalm 39
What this means, in Biblical terms, is that an immigrant, foreigner, and treatment of a stranger is defined as any person who dwells in a land without being a citizen of that land. It is not only historical record, but an informed path to follow.
The story of the Bible is the story of immigrants and outsiders: the journey of Abraham from his homeland to Canaan, a place already occupied by other people. He and his family have to find their way in a place and society not their own, where they have neither land nor relatives. The story of Exodus reinforces the status of Israel as strangers in a land not their own. Pharaoh’s oppression of Israelites portrays an attitude awkwardly familiar: “The Israelite people are too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase, otherwise in the event of a war they may join our enemies in fighting against us.” Israelites leave Egypt as refugees and encounter nations who do not want to let them pass. According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus and his family become political refugees. In the book of Ruth, Ruth includes the story of a foreigner who comes to Israel. He works as a laborer in the fields, hoping for a better life. This foreigner, immigrant, and stranger turns out to be the ancestor of King David and through him, Jesus.
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Lev.19:33-34
The Golden Rule – “Love your neighbor as yourself” carries over to the stranger: “You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger.” Isiah uses language that shows the prophets recognized the plight of the refugee: “Give advice, offer counsel. …Let Moab’s outcasts find asylum in you; be a shelter for them.” The Bible suggests that we, as well as God cares for the stranger. But we are not meant to leave the care of the stranger totally in God’s hands. No message is as clear as the vision of the final judgement in Matthew 25: Jesus will separate the righteous and the accursed based on how they treated him. For the righteous, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” For the accursed “I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”
If the Bible is an informed path to follow; if it is considered to be an historical record; if caring for a stranger is something that God does – then how and why are we in such a divisive and hateful place in America? Why are we ignoring or so ignorant of the books of both testaments?
Something precious has been lost. We need to find our way back. But I am not sure how.
What do you think?
Source: based on an article in the Star-Ledger, Joel Baden for the Washington Post