HOW WOULD JESUS VIEW IMMIGRANTS?
PASTOR DANIEL K. ENG | JULY 26, 2018 | 10 MIN READ
In the midst of this political climate, I’ve been thinking about what Jesus would say to the American church about immigrants. Please note that the intention of this piece is not to comment about government policies or officials. Instead, it is meant to help followers of Jesus consider how we can view immigrants the way he does. Here are some observations from the Gospel of Luke as we prayerfully consider our response.
1. The inclusive nature of God’s kingdom
God longs to welcome the marginalized. The ministry of Jesus recorded in Luke is characterized by inclusivity. We see Jesus constantly showed favor to those who are excluded by the Jews. Jesus honored a Samaritan in a parable (Luke 10:33), esteemed a Roman centurion (Luke 7:9), and declared the inclusion of Zacchaeus, a tax collector (19:9). Later, in the narrative of Acts, Luke’s sequel, we see this inclusivity on a broader level through the Spirit’s development of the church with the inclusion of the Hellenistic Jews and, ultimately, the Gentiles into the church at large.
In American society, immigrants often have the experience of being outside the circle. Maybe English is not their first language. They don’t adhere to the cultural norms. Perhaps they find it difficult to find employment for which they were qualified in their previous home countries. They are on the margins, feeling the disgrace of being “other.”
What would it look like for churchgoers to express inclusive love to the marginalized, seeing them as either family members or potential family members of the body of Christ?
2. A call for a fuller view
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he encountered people who had been reduced to one dimension by the people in power. Tax collectors were outcasts (Luke 5:30). A sinful woman was seen as untouchable (Luke 7:39). Children were seen as a nuisance (Luke 18:15).
But Jesus looked at people and saw beyond what made them objectionable. He had a full view of them. He saw people in need of forgiveness and acceptance. He saw the sinners as sick people in need of a doctor (Luke 5:31). He saw a poor widow display extraordinary generosity (Luke 21:4).
Perhaps the immigrants who live near you are objectionable to you in some way. Perhaps they seem undignified or appear to be a problem that will lower your property value. But will you see past that one dimension and gain a fuller view of them? Will you learn their names and their stories, along with their hopes and dreams?
What if the immigrants are undocumented? What if they abuse the welfare system? Will you reduce them to that one dimension, losing their full picture as people created in the image of God?
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the older son berates his father for his lavish welcome of the younger son who has finally returned home. Mr. “I’ve done things right” even refuses to recognize that the younger son is his brother. He has reduced his brother to one dimension.
Through describing the father’s response to the older son, Jesus reminded the Pharisees and scribes of a fuller view of the tax collectors and sinners. The father in the story reminds the older son that this delinquent is “your brother” and to celebrate because he was dead and is alive again (Luke 15:32). Will you (who have done things right) look beyond the one dimension and see people as loved by God and longing for security? Will you seek to show compassion to them in the name of Christ?
3. A higher law
A major idea repeated in the immigration debate is that people should abide by the law. Yes, that sentiment is correct. Undocumented and illegal immigration is wrong. Jesus never condoned the questioned actions of the tax collectors and “sinners.” But he was compassionate towards them, modeling obedience to a higher law.
Jesus doesn’t teach to ignore the law of the land. He taught “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:25). Yes, there are laws of the land that people are to obey. But there is also a higher law that we as followers of Christ are also to obey.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for carefully following one law but neglecting the higher law: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42).
Jesus affirmed the man who said that the law comes down to this: to love God and to love your neighbor (Luke 10:25-28). But there’s more to this event. Through the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught the same man not to limit the range of “neighbor” (Luke 10:29-37).
Brothers and sisters, let’s not focus solely on other people breaking a law. We ourselves have a higher law to obey: loving God and loving our neighbors. Our neighbors include everyone, not just those of whom we approve.
In conclusion, I’m not intending to comment on American laws here. But the American church has an opportunity to follow God’s law to love him and love others in this context. Will we consider how to embody the kind of ministry that Jesus modeled?
Daniel is the grandson of immigrants from Hong Kong. After a decade in pastoral ministry in California and Texas, Daniel is now pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and their three little girls. He has a D.Min. in Asian American Ministry and is constantly discussing concepts at the intersection of faith and culture. He enjoys following baseball, playing board games, and trying different types of cheese.