The Lord watches over the alien. – Psalm 146:9
In the context of a verbally hostile race for the oval office of the presidency, there’s been much castigation and disparagement of aliens, legal and illegal immigrants to the USA and with a very vigorous, broad brush. I’ve said this before, but it merits repeating . . .
I believe that all four of my grandparents were illegal aliens. Before you say “YIKES!” . . . let me explain. I don’t mean to say that they were aliens from outer space like E.T. or the aliens in the Independence Day movie attacking the Whitehouse. My grandparents were “aliens” from Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland). As young people, born well before 1900, they migrated down to Boston looking for work and never went back. They were undocumented. They didn’t enter the USA legally through Ellis Island’s immigrant screening. More than likely, they just took the ferry that ran between the Canadian Maritimes and New England, something that happened every day as whole populations moved back and forth across the relatively open border. Because social security hadn’t been invented yet, they weren’t registered in any data bank other than having a Massachusetts driver’s license.
In many ways my grandparents were forerunners of today’s undocumented immigrants, only they came to the USA in more friendly times. As undocumented persons of Anglo-saxon heritage they had no problem assimilating into the American culture at that time. They blended right in. The color of their skin, their linguistic habits and accents, the food they ate, how they dressed, and their faith commitments did not set them apart nor made others uncomfortable. As a result they were not subjected to discrimination or oppression. They needed no acts of mercy, intervention, or missional compassion. The barriers to their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness were little or none.
These thoughts are on my mind, because it seems to me that today we are to living in a time of unprecedented diaspora throughout the world. Millions globally are migrating great distances, some for political reasons, some to escape economic disaster, and many for the purpose of survival yet at great risk. Hundreds, and some days even thousands, are literally dying in the process of seeking safety and a better life somewhere else. To say that it is a difficult time to be an alien is an understatement for millions of people all of whom God loves.
The Bible has something to say to us about aliens:
Exodus 22:20 – Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him.
Psalm 146:9 – The Lord watches over the alien;
Exodus 23:9 – You yourself knows how it feels to be alien.
Colossians 1:21 – Once you were alienated from God.
1 Peter 2:11 – Now . . . as aliens and strangers in the world, abstain from sinful desires . . . Live such good lives that others, who may accuse you of doing wrong, may see your good deeds and glorify God.
Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine that others see your good works (toward the alien) and glorify your Father in heaven. – parentheses mine.
Perhaps the most powerful directive for our regard of the alien is the second half of the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a tough directive. How do we love persons of other faiths or any neighbors when they are not the enemy, when they are so different they make us uncomfortable, when they don’t love the God we love, when they have ways of living that differ from ours, and when we suspect that they are residents here in the country illegally? Isn’t it just easier to pray that they just go back to their own country, that they go live somewhere else, or that they somehow just go away? As persons of Mexican heritage, how do we love our Guatemalan of Salvadoran neighbor? As persons of Korean heritage, how do we love our Japanese neighbor and visa versa? As Christians of Jewish heritage, how do we love our Palestinian or Syrian neighbour. The strength and disposition to love is a matter of a “tough mind and a tender heart” (Martin Luther King, 1963). It is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
God loves the alien, because he loves the world. Christ gave himself on the cross for the alien also. He loved us while we were still alien from the Kingdom of God. The Bible also has something to say about how we love our neighbor: If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . . Whoever claims to live in Christ must walk as he walks. . . Whoever loves his brother lives in the light and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness . . . and the darkness blinds him. (1 John 1 & 2, selected verses).
The matter of migration and immigrants in a foreign land is complicated and there are real, major concerns about the “bad apples” in the barrel of any country that receives influxes of immigrants. Germany right now is a good example given the hundreds of thousands in the last few months immigrating there. God’s disposition regarding aliens is clear and it is not optional. We are to love our neighbor, all of them. We are to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) who loves all aliens.
O God, we embrace your words. They are ours to live by: Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit. By your grace and Spirit strengthen us to be more than a blessing to aliens in our midsts. Make us servants in your likeness that some will come to faith in you because of our love for them. This we earnestly pray in your name, our Lord and Savior who loves the alien. Amen.