Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

If People Excluded “Illegal Immigrants”, We Wouldn’t Have Jesus

We only have Jesus because someone decided to show love and mercy towards an illegal immigrant.

Sometimes I end up being controversial even when I’m not intentionally being controversial. The other day when I wrote a piece on why Jesus followers need to reclaim the immigration discussion and insert pro-immigrant Jesus values into the discussion, I actually wasn’t trying kick the hornet’s nest (this time).

But, I should have remembered: nothing pisses some people off like suggesting we should love immigrants.

Think we should bomb the crap out of Iran to protect Israel? You’ll get high-fives all day long.

Suggest we should love immigrants? Well, you’ll get a long list of excuses and push-back.

I’ve always thought it silly that some folks will go to the mat and condemn folks over issues that Jesus never once discussed (such as abortion or gay marriage) but yet will completely ignore some of the stuff he actually does say– such as that uncomfortable story in Matthew 25. The story’s about two groups of people– one that goes to heaven, and one that is eternally condemned. To the group that is condemned by Jesus, one of the reasons he gives is:

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons… For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.”

While I don’t believe in the “eternal conscious torment” aspect of hell– a topic I hope to cover next week– this is a story of condemnation no matter which way you cut it. Now, the way folks try to get out of this and justify not actively loving immigrants is by one of two ways. First, they argue the word “stranger” isn’t referring to an immigrant. Secondly, when they lose the language part of the debate, they skip to: “well, he wasn’t talking about illegals“.

So, let’s dismantle this one at a time: the word Jesus uses for “stranger” is  ξένος, and it actually means foreigner– aka, an immigrant. Pronounced “xenos”, it actually makes the root of the word xenophobia, a fear strangers/foreigners. It also makes for half of the Greek word for hospitality (meaning to love strangers like a brother), which you can read more about here.

Since that argument doesn’t work, one’s only hope is to claim that we’re not under a Christian obligation to love “illegal” immigrants… but that argument doesn’t work either.

You see, there actually is a story about an “illegal immigrant” in the Bible. (I use the term “illegal” for context, though I believe it’s actually sinful to call undocumented immigrants “illegal”). Aaron Taylor tells the story in it’s entirety here, but the example is that of Ruth in the Old Testament. Ruth (a Moabite) could have been considered an “illegal” immigrant based on the Law of Moses. As Aaron states:

“…Deuteronomy 23:3 is clear, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever.” If you’re still not convinced that descendants of Moab were ordered to be excluded from the congregation of Israel, take a look at verse 6, which says, “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”

Under God’s law, Ruth was an “illegal” and to be excluded– but thankfully, she was not. A man named Boaz comes along and becomes the hero of the story by ignoring a law that was ultimately unloving. Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a family.

Like Jesus demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, Boaz realized that it’s better to love than to obey the law.

And, it’s a good thing he did– because had Ruth been excluded, we wouldn’t have Jesus himself. You see, Ruth– the “illegal immigrant”– had a grandson who’s name was King David. And who’s the most famous descendant of King David?

Yup, that would be Jesus.

In fact, in the New Testament we see the genealogy condensed to the point that Jesus is simply called: “Jesus, son of David”.

Or, we could also say, “Jesus, son of David, great-grandson of an illegal immigrant”.

The next time you hear someone demonize an immigrant for being “illegal”, or suggesting that Jesus followers are not under any obligation to radically love immigrants of any type? Just remind them that if folks had always thought that way, we never would have welcomed Jesus into the world.

We only have Jesus because someone loved an “illegal” immigrant.

Yes, secular governments have the right to control immigration policies. However, as Jesus followers (a term I use separate from the term “Christian”), we are simply called to love and serve– even when we think the object of our love or service is somehow less than deserving.

…Because we all are when you get down to it.


Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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