ALIENS, DREAMERS AND EMPATHY
Many of the refugees we are helping in Jordan are not officially “refugees”. You see, a refugee is someone who has applied to the U.N. for “refugee status” because their home has no longer become safe. People who flee their country without entering a refugee camp are not officially considered refugees. The people being helped by our community center in Jordan are technically, “illegal aliens”. The people of Jordan feel similarly about them as Californians do about our illegal immigrant population — conflicted.
How should we respond to illegal immigrants? How are they different than refugees? What is a Christian response? What is the place of the law? How are Christians called to deal with aliens? Does the Bible even address this issue?
Aliens and the law
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
God gave clear instructions to Israel. Love aliens like your own family. Treat them like citizens. Be careful not to oppress them. The rational is clear. You were aliens once. You know what it’s like. Have empathy. Signed, The Lord your God.
Aliens and the Gospel
God spoke a similar message through Paul to the gentile Christians in Ephesus –
Remember that you were at one time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13)
Instructions about imitating God and living lives worthy of the calling we have received follow in Paul’s letter. Each is grounded in this reality: though we were once outsiders, God made us family. God chose us, adopted us and saved us by grace. He called us to treat people the way God treated us. Jesus put it like this: “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you.”
What’s new about that?
There is nothing new about the command to love one another. What is new is the “as I have loved you” part. We are called to love like Jesus, laying down our lives for our friends, our enemies and the alien.
The path is clear.
Though it is easier said than done, with lots of issues to work out, the path is clear:
- Remember where you came from.
- Think of what God did for you.
- Do the same for others.
People say America is a nation of Immigrants. I assert more importantly the church is a family of aliens and refugees who aren’t here because of our rights, but because of our Father’s grace. If you can remember where you came from, it will be easier to relate to others who came from somewhere else. When you empathize with the experience of another, you begin treat them not as they deserve, but as you God treated you. You are a chip off the old block. Own it!