You need not know much Bible to know that the Bible says something like “love your neighbor as yourself.” A little more and you may also know that “love your neighbor as yourself” comes first in the Old Testament and that later on Jesus said that this love for neighbor comes right after loving God and so is the second most important commandment for God’s people (Matthew 22:34-40).
Let’s see it with what it came with that first time in Leviticus:
Don’t hate your fellow citizen in your heart but reason openly with your neighbor so that you don’t sin because of him. Don’t seek revenge against or harbor a grudge against any fellow citizen, but love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17-18)
So the issue for the people of Israel was not the neighbor I like but the neighbor I want to sue, beat up, kill, or at least bad-mouth. It’s not primarily about inviting someone to the family backyard barbecue but about restraining anger so that the Israelites could live together without chaos.
The same courtesy was to be extended to any foreigner who had chosen to live among the people of Israel:
When a foreigner has taken up residence with you in your land, don’t oppress the foreigner. Treat the foreigner who has taken up residence with you just as you would a citizen: love the foreigner as yourself, since you, too, were foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
The “foreigner who has taken up residence with you” is what we today call the “immigrant.” How were the Israelites to treat such people? As one of the family, just like a citizen, with love ( see also Deuteronomy 24:17-18).
Jesus not only set love for neighbor alongside love for God as the second most important commandment but also took up love for neighbor and expanded its reach.
You’ve heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
Timeout: Did anyone actually add “and hate your enemy” to the old commandment? It’s not something we know about if they did, and Jesus may have just been making explicit what he thought some people heard implied in the commandment. At any rate, I am sure it was just as hard in Jesus’ day as it is now to remember that “love the foreigner as yourself” comes just a few sentences after “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus continued,
But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In this way you can be children of your Father in heaven, who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
People, including Christians, generally think of the enemy as the certain exception: even if you are determined to love everybody, there eventually comes a limit. But in the politics of our time some of us are more likely to broaden that enemy at the same time that we forget what Jesus said to do for that person: love your neighbor, love the immigrant, love your enemy because God lets sun shine and rain fall with no regard for the righteousness or not of the people on the ground.
Another brief timeout: Many Christians don’t believe that bit about the sun and the rain.
Back to the game: Because God lets the weather ignore whether people are his friends or not, perhaps we should take a lesson and, as Leviticus already said, treat immigrants more like we treat fellow-citizens.
There are, I suppose, good practical reasons for some of the legal hurdles we put in the way of immigrants, but I am glad to be part of a church that is willing to put up with whatever political fallout might come from trying to help immigrants over those hurdles. The leaders of the Wesleyan Church are willing to take whatever heat comes from encouraging, publicizing, and putting some of our money into Immigrant Connection: “Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people, and Christ’s love compels Wesleyans to act as agents of Spirit-led outreach and hospitality to all. Immigrant Connection works toward this aim” (here’s the website). Among the immigration legal ministry sites affiliated with Immigration Connection is one at our local church, City Life Church (and here’s that website, and, incidentally, involvement with immigrants has been part of City Life Church since it began, through its classes for those preparing to take the U.S. citizenship examination).
It’s always a good time — and this is a particularly good year — for American Christians to welcome immigrants. The Wesleyan Church is far from alone in doing that. You can also find out about this from The Immigration Alliance (legal assistance) and Welcoming the Stranger (all-round information), both parts of World Relief. The Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice has a page on immigration that is a good starting point for information and involvement.