When the Lawyer wishing to justify himself asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus answers him with a story about a “certain man” who was beaten and left for dead. But who is he? He is naked so his clothes don’t give away his identity. He is unconscious-can’t speak, so his dialect, language, and accent are not discernible. We don’t know why he was on the road and there is no one around him to tell us anything about him. All we know is that he needs help.
You know the story! You know that the religious men don’t help him. Why? Many theories have been posited as to why the Levite and the priest don’t help. It may be that their rules about touching the dead or the unclean prohibited them from helping. It may be they were afraid the robbers were still nearby. Or it may be that they were too prideful and they considered it beneath their dignity. However, it doesn’t matter to the story or Jesus would have told us.
What matters is that the “Good Samaritan” helped. He bound up his wounds, took him to the inn to stay and rest, and paid for it all. At the end of the story, the conclusion was that the Good Samaritan was the man who behaved with love for his neighbor. And the lawyer was commanded by Jesus to go and do the same.
Does loving my neighbor mean loving the immigrant, and even the undocumented?
Before we find the answer and see how Jesus is directing our behavior, let’s make those qualifying rules that we must make before we can discover what Jesus is saying. First, we are not looking for the Democrat or Republican or liberal or conservative or any other political answer. Jesus did not belong to a political party. We cannot apply politics if we are seeking the truth. Second, we are not forwarding a political agenda, nor are we offering a political solution. At this time, we cannot offer a solution if we don’t know how God wants us to approach the subject. Let’s apply the Bible first and foremost.
How does the Bible look at foreigners, sojourners, strangers and aliens?
There are many scriptures that address foreigners in Israel to treat them fairly, with mercy and compassion. Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 24: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take widow’s garment in pledge,…” And these are strong words, “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” Deut. 27:19.
In Leviticus 19 God commands harvesters not to reap their fields to the edge, neither to pick up fallen grapes, but to leave some behind for the poor and the sojourner. “You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” 19:10. The Lord continues with other commands not to steal, rob, do injustice, hate, or take vengeance. It is interesting to note that he finishes with “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” V. 18.
All of the above Old Testament verses are from the ESV. In each instance, the word “sojourner” comes from the Hebrew word Gêr (גֵּר־) translated as sojourner, stranger, aliens, and foreigner. Dr. James Hoffmeier, professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, says that the Hebrew Gêr is more properly translated as a sojourner or stranger with legal status and equivalent to an immigrant with a green card . However, the Bible makes no such distinction between legal and illegal sojourners, nor does the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Returning to the story of the Good Samaritan, the “certain man” is unidentifiable. The parable specifically illustrates that the quality, character and background of this man is unknowable at the moment of encounter. It cannot be known if he is a thief, robber, drug addict, Gentile, good man or bad man, or an immigrant with or without a green card. In fact, if he would have had a green card, the thieves would have stolen it. The point of the parable is not to be able to distinguish who is worthy of aid, the point is that your neighbor is the one in need, the one you can touch, the one you may be able to rescue.
Welcome the stranger
Consider the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus says when he comes, before him all the nations will be gathered together. Then, Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats, and to the sheep he will say come into my kingdom for “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you game drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Matthew 25:35, 36. Stranger comes from the Greek, xenos (ξένος)and means foreigner. Let’s clarify: Jesus is NOT talking about a person that you don’t know and that is a stranger to you. He is talking specifically about foreigners in the land-the immigrant. (This article does not have the space to go further with this word study, but if you are in doubt, please feel free to research it.) When he says “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” he referred to himself as an immigrant and there was nothing that distinguishes whether he had a green card or didn’t.
To the goats, those who did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick or those in prison, to those who did not welcome the stranger, Jesus is very specific. He says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” V. 41. This is a clear warning with dire consequences that cannot be taken lightly.
There can be no other view. To turn away from the immigrant, documented or undocumented, is to turn away from Jesus. “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Mt. 25:45.
But what about the law and Christian obedience to it?
There is a well made argument that Christians are supposed to obey the law, and by helping the immigrant we are subverting it. See Romans 13:1-7. Let’s examine the implications. First, how do we know when we see a Latin American person that he is documented or undocumented? Is it right to approach all Latinos with an assumption that they are undocumented? Of course not.
Secondly, let’s not assume things and ask the question, “Is the law prohibiting us from helping the undocumented?” Now that is a big question. Immigration law provides that those who are fleeing for safety, for their life, may apply for asylum. In one sense, the church can help an undocumented person apply for that asylum, but that is very technical and outside the normal scope of the church unless they have lawyers. However, we should take note that the most recent influx of immigration is due to people fleeing for their lives from an out of control drug cartel. (Do you really want to send those folks back?) So, in answer to the question, it may be that an undocumented person at your door or the door of your church is not illegal and has a means of coming to the United States quite legally.
Third, what is the Christian to do if there is an unjust law in place? This is outside the scope of this article, but look for future articles to address it. But let’s go so far as to define a law as unjust if it subverts the words of Jesus. As clearly indicated above, a law to turn away from the undocumented immigrant that is in need is unjust because it subverts the word of Jesus in Matthew 25:31ff at the very least.
So…Where do we go from here?
Christians can differ on how to approach and how we are to proceed with immigration, its policies and the process of reform, but we cannot differ in our view of loving the immigrant as we love ourselves. That’s just the word of Jesus.
But let’s stop for a moment and weigh the facts. I can go on and on about the tax paying of the immigrants that the government actually benefits from because most undocumented immigrants do not file for refunds, and I can go on and on about the prices of your chicken in the store being low because the undocumented immigrant takes a job making far less than an American will which translates into saving you money at the grocery store (chicken is just one of the items that we may reap benefits from undocumented workers), but to be sure there will be many who can also tell of negative effects as well. So, let’s just talk about a Christian response.
First, let’s not call all immigrants undocumented and lump them into one pile.
Second, let’s not call all undocumented “illegals,” because they may have a justifiable reason under the law, for being here.
Third, let’s stop attacking the undocumented simply because “they are breaking the law.” Most immigrants, documented and undocumented, are here because they found no other way to support their family, children were hungry, and lives were threatened. Please, they have been attacked enough. AND let me just say, most everyone reading this article thinks a law allowing abortion is unjust—don’t you advocate to change that law? (If you think abortion laws are fine just as they are, you can skip this part). It should be a Christian’s stand to make sure there are just laws in place that protect our country and its borders from attack while making ways for those who are starving or in jeopardy of losing their life and their family to have access to our help.
AND fourth, and maybe the most important, let’s treat the immigrant, documented and undocumented like Jesus because he says to do so.
This will continue in the next article: Part 2 on helping the immigrant, helping Jesus with a discussion on ways to do so. Please feel free to comment.