When reading the Bible one comes across many important themes. Salvation, forgiveness, and the unconditional love of God are a few. Another would be migration.
My friend Joan Maruskin wrote an article calling the Bible the “Ultimate Immigration Handbook.” Joan writes that, “The Biblical story is a migration story. The Bible is the story of the uprooted People of God seeking safety, sanctuary and refuge and the living God giving directions for welcoming the stranger. From Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Moses to Jesus, Joseph and Mary, all found themselves on the move, migrating, looking for a better life.”
Migration is a central theme of the Bible because it is so central to the human experience. In fact I would say that we humans are a migratory species. Very few people live their entire lives in one place. Many of us move many times during our lifetime. We move for positive reasons, such as to go to school, or to begin a new and better job. And we move for negative reasons such as to escape poverty or oppression.
Migration has always been a part of human history. But because of the widespread changes caused by globalization, more people are migrating than ever before. In the last 25 years the number of people on the move has doubled from 100 million to over 200 million. Many migrants are forcibly uprooted and approximately 30-40 million are undocumented worldwide.
As one of the most complex issues in the world, migration underscores not only conflict at geographical borders, but also between national security and human insecurity, sovereign rights and human rights, civil law and natural law, and citizenship and discipleship. (Groody, NCR)
Yet from another perspective, the theological perspective, the issue of immigration is not complex at all. The immigrant is our brother and our sister. When it comes to how we treat an economically poor person, who arrives at our door/border, in need of help, we really have little option. The nearly 120 passages that refer to welcoming the stranger are clear. Matthew 25 is clear, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
While one can often find Bible passages that seem to support both sides of many Judeo-Christian issues, (What does the Bible say about war for instance? Well there are lines from the Bible that support going to war and lines that say something entirely different.) I often say that I have yet to find the loophole regarding how we can treat that poor person asking for help. There is nothing in our faith tradition that says anything other than to welcome and to help her or him out.
For me therefore there is no clearer teaching in our faith tradition than that regarding the immigrant. When we look at the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament and 2,000 years of Church teaching we see over and over again, God’s people on the move, fleeing oppression, war, enslavement or other problems and we always see the living God accompanying the migrants.
Though the teaching of our faith is clear, it is once again a complex matter to live it out. Debra Hafner writes in an article in the Washington Post, “Loving the stranger was difficult in Biblical times; it’s difficult still. It means resisting the fear of difference and moving to a place of radical welcome and inclusion. And that means embracing people who are different than us without trying to change them. We can celebrate our diversity and our difference.”
Our immigration system is broken. We need to fix it and people of faith need to participate in the process of looking for solutions, in large part because we cannot be welcoming the immigrant as commanded by our faith if our national policies are ones of rejecting, arresting and sending them back to their misery.
Dan Groody says that the greatest migration story of all is the story of God migrating to humans in the person of Jesus so that one day we may all migrate back to God. We need not fear the migrant. We can learn and be enriched by persons who are different than us. We may even entertain angels! (Hebrews 13:2)