When visitors arrive at our churches or a new family moves into the neighborhood it is customary for us to be friendly and welcoming. It is especially easy to do when the newcomers seem to be people like ourselves. If they have a different ethnic or racial background, some may think twice about welcoming those who may or may not fit into the social structure of our community. This is particularly true when it comes to welcoming immigrants. Most of our families were immigrants sometime in the past, but we usually think of ourselves as the ones who have first priority on receiving the benefits of citizenship in the United States of America.
In recent years we have noted tension regarding Hispanics who have entered this country legally or illegally. Few condone the actions of those coming to this country illegally even if their reasons for coming are sound. Some states have gone to considerable trouble to block such entries or to deport those caught without the proper papers.
If one were to consider the Bible to be God’s unerring word, it would be difficult to justify a hard nosed approach to keeping the alien out. In Leviticus 23:22, God says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.” In Leviticus 19:33-34 we read, “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: I am the Lord your God.”
There are all sorts of passages in the Bible that many of us do not consider the unerring word of God, but passages like these that commend us to welcome the stranger remind us that everyone is a child of God and that God encourages us to be compassionate in all circumstances. Our prejudices are not adequate permission to be hurtful to those who differ from us. Finding suitable solutions to immigration problems on a national level will undoubtedly continue to spark intense dialogue. But in our immediate relationships with aliens or strangers we are reminded to love them as ourselves, one of the two great commandments.