Luke tells us that when Jesus was born Mary laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for him in the inn. Matthew narrates a story about a young family having to live a nomadic life because of the threat of governing authorities. Both birth narratives reflect what Jesus knew to be true about his own life, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Throughout his life, while Jesus gathered a small following, in most cases, he was rejected.
The story of the incarnation, then, is a story about how the God of creation had entered into that creation as a rejected alien and stranger.
Even though most Americans support immigration reform, Congress fails to do its job by working across political party lines and pass any kind of reform. I am ill-equipped to answer questions about immigration from a legal stand point, and I see the strengths and weaknesses of various positions on the issue. But as Christians who follow a Savior who himself lived as an alien rejected by his own, I am troubled that many folks are not concerned about developing a compassionate response to the immigration issue.
Coupled with this lack of action on the part of our nation’s leaders is the growing crisis involving over 50,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, crossing the border and being taken into custody. A majority of these children are fleeing for their safety, hoping to find it here. While groups protest assistance being given to these children, wanting them to simply be sent back home, fortunately many faith groups are responding to this humanitarian crisis by ministering to the needs of these children, some of whom are very young.
Children suffering should appall every one of us, regardless of how that suffering came about. It is unconscionable to me both as an American, but especially as one who tries to follow Christ, that Americans, some of whom most likely claim to be Christian, are protesting that any aid be given to these children.
How might Scripture inform us as we struggle to formulate common sense and faithful Christian responses to the issue of immigration? First, we need to recall God’s commands to Israel regarding aliens in their midst. The Mosaic Law states that God is one “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” Moses goes on to command Israel to “love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.
Moreover, Jesus tells us in that famous passage from Matthew 25:31-46 that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will separate the faithful and the unfaithful. The only criteria for which we will be judged is how we treated others.
Jesus will not ask, “What did you believe about me?” He will not ask, “How often did you go to church.” He will not ask, “Which political party did you support?” He will simply judge us by how we treated the least of these. Certainly the 50,000 plus children fit Jesus’ definition of the least of these.
If we claim to follow Jesus, we need to make sure our views are more informed by the compassion of our faith than the fear our culture feeds us. Our positions on the issues surrounding immigration must not only model the teachings of Jesus on welcoming the strangers and outcasts, especially the children, they should also be views that see the person of Jesus in every human being. If they do not, we may find ourselves asking Jesus, “When did we see you as a stranger?’ only to hear, “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”.