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God’s Love is not limited by Legal Status

Part 5 in the Seeing Beyond the Immigration Rhetoric series.

I met Jorge (name changed) at the Newton Correctional Facility, where my husband and I planted a church 8 years ago. Jorge came to the United States from Guatemala. Unfortunately, Jorge’s life took a turn for the worse and he ended up in prison.

Every time I talked to this Christian brother of over 6 feet and 250 pounds, my heart wept. Jorge faced deportation after his prison sentence was completed and he was deathly afraid of going back to his country. His mom had saved enough money for one son, Jorge, to come to the states with a “coyote”. Jorge had a death threat on his life from violent gangs, who had already killed his pastor, father, and brother. Whenever I spoke with Jorge in his broken English, he would sob uncontrollably about his fear of returning to Guatemala.

 Jorge in his broken English, he would sob uncontrollably

God's love extends beyond legal status or country of origin. God does not give us the job of judging whether Jorge or anyone else is worthy of His love and grace. God created every human being in His image (Gen.1:27). As a result, we are commanded to treat all human life with respect and kindness. Since we are saved by His blood, we are commanded to show God’s love & mercy to ALL our neighbors. I John 4:19-21 says “We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. . . Those who love God must also love one another.”

The Bible repeatedly commands His people to love our immigrant neighbors: “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native–born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:33-34). Note that it says nothing of legal status. God’s love is unconditional.

God’s love is unconditional

It is clear that God loves immigrants, who are among the most vulnerable members of society. An ancestor of Jesus, Ruth was an immigrant and benefited from God's concrete love through the practice of gleaning. “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.” (Leviticus 19:9-10) Through the laws that he gave to the Israelites, God made provision for the poor and the immigrant.

God's love for the immigrant is also revealed in the life of Jesus. In Matthew 2, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus took refuge in Egypt after Joseph had a dream about the evil order King Herod was about to issue. Did Joseph & Mary have time to acquire the proper paperwork? Did they have the money to afford to flee? Their lives were at stake, so Egypt became their temporary home.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus took refuge in Egypt 

Jesus often received hospitality, and he also spoke of hospitality as a concrete expression of God’s love for people. Many texts (eg. Matthew 25 and Hebrews 13) speak not about to prisoners like Jorge but also about the foreigner. Jesus speaks a word of challenge, a word of love, for his faithful listeners: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40, TNIV).

The stranger is a vulnerable person, needing hospitality and love. Yet he is a stranger to us, speaking a strange language, eating strange foods, and engaging in what may seem like strange cultural customs to us. Can we overcome our obstacles? Can we overcome our fears? Can we love like Jesus loved? God's love requires that we no longer hold the stranger at arms-length because of Jesus’ radical identification with the least of these. We do not have the option of allowing someone’s legal status to limit our care for them.

We do not have the option of allowing someone’s legal status to limit our care for them

Our immigration laws and regulations are broken. Some say that it is not the same as when our ancestors immigrated. Certainly, the rules are different and have become much more difficult. God calls us to love our neighbor by working to change the immigration process.

The highest law is the law of love for God and our neighbor. Exercising that love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant people. Jesus said, “whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you also did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).

Take some time to investigate God's love for the immigrant. Set politics aside temporarily so that you can hear the Bible speak. May the Spirit penetrate your heart in order to go beyond politics to persons.

Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

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