If you’re a Christian, you probably know what Jesus said when someone asked him what was the most important commandment. You can probably quote it.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. A second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
One’s relation with God is tied up with the way one treats the neighbor. That’s a basic understanding of Jewish and Christian faith.
Another element, closely tied to love of neighbor, has to do with how the people of God treat strangers and aliens who live among them. Over and over, throughout the Law and the Prophets, God’s people are admonished to remember that they were slaves, aliens, and strangers in the land of Egypt.
Therefore, they are to treat aliens and strangers with kindness and compassion. They are to treat aliens the same way they treat one another. They are to have one law for themselves and for aliens. They are to leave the corners and gleanings of the fields for the poor and for the aliens.
The bottom line is repeated over and over. “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)
There are more than fifty references to aliens and the responsibility of God’s people to care for them in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy alone. A typical command is this: “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.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Whenever we treat aliens and strangers with disdain or cruelty, separating children from parents or abusing people who have fled violence to seek safety, we spit in the face of God. I pray that we repent as a nation, as Christians, as churches.
I pray that we open our hearts and lives to these people who have fled in fear from homes they love and have endured hardship we can hardly imagine. I pray we can urge our leaders to address the conditions that force people to leave their homes. In the words of a migrant I met at the border last fall, “Everyone who leaves home suffers.”
Or, in the words of poet, Warsan Shire, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark; you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well”
A basic part of Christian faith is that we who have received God’s grace know that our mission in life is to extend the grace we have known to others. We were all strangers and aliens. We have been brought near through the grace of Jesus, who has broken down all the walls of division.