This is a guest post by the Rev. Don Gibson. Don is pastor of Basic United Methodist Church and Rayos de Esperanz congregation in Waynesboro. This article was originally published in the April 2010 issue of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate and is used here with permission from the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“When the 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.” Leviticus 19:33-34
“I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters; you were doing it to me!” Matthew 25:40
In 2005, while gathered for a Sunday afternoon Bible study, members of Basic United Methodist Church were challenged to live in the realities of the ancient right of sanctuary. Cries for help, interrupting the persistent hum of the air conditioner, called to action the students of the Word, offering a dare to live the Word.
Felipe, a young, homeless, Hispanic man, stumbled helpless into the social hall and into the arms of strangers. Intoxicated and beaten, Felipe’s instinctive response was to remember the teachings of his childhood, the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and of Paul and the slave Onesimus (Philemon 1:1-25).
Felipe’s childhood was one to be forgotten. Though deeply loved, he lived with and in the realities of stark and unchanging poverty. His persistent childhood dream was to one day leave behind the hardship of his homeland, Mexico, hoping to provide “more” and “better” for his family. “Dreams are not probable,” his mother would remind him, “however, the Word of God will lead you to true prosperity, a prosperity that this world cannot ever take from you.”
As Felipe lay bleeding in the arms of strangers, reality confirmed the well-known truths of his mother. What now would be truth for Felipe? Would he find strangers unable to love and receive him, strangers embattled in the immigration issues that grip the politics and opinions of his “dream-land?” Or, would he, as in the fondly remembered Bible stories of his childhood, be welcomed, bandaged, fed, offered shelter and loved?
Our world is becoming increasingly globalized. This process has effects on culture, political systems, economic development and societal expectations. For many, this globalization offers an awareness of something better, something more. These seemingly “new” realities of globalization and the human inclination to draw battle lines are, in fact, nothing new at all. The story of the United States is the story of immigration. Ours is a history characterized by waves of ethnic groups arriving to these shores searching for freedom and prosperity. Each wave has brought with them hopes and dreams of a better life in addition to unique strengths and contributions. The U.S. has long been conflicted over the issue of immigration – both welcoming newcomers and resenting them. What is new, and desperately needed, is a fresh perspective of our own approach as Christians.
In a well-known and much-loved Bible parable, the Good Samaritan beckons us to remember and to ask, What is the current context of this story and how are we called to live in it? The parable says more than “It’s good to help people in need.” One if not the most important questions asked is, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus, in teaching the expert in law, offers that whenever others are in need, God expects us to be a neighbor to them.
In our current context we must remember that neighbors can come in strange places, unusual situations and can be found in the most unexpected persons. This parable beautifully explains the commandment of loving God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves, without any reservations. It also demonstrates the intensity of God’s love toward a sinful world. All of us were once like the suffering man, traveling through life sick, wounded and robbed, left to fend for ourselves at the mercies of the world.
As a Christian, I believe my faith calls me to view all people, regardless of citizenship status, as made in the “image of God” and deserving of my respect. I choose, based on the instruction of Christ, to show compassion for the stranger and love and mercy for my neighbor. Is not our purpose to always be working to make His “kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven?” As Christians we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible is explicit in instructing us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land, and to love them as we love ourselves. In these times, we must learn to listen to the ever-present, still speaking voice of God. If and when we do, we will learn how to respond to our sisters and brothers, our neighbors, residing among us.
Many millions like Felipe are leaving their homelands because of economic necessity, war, famine and persecution, and are looking to acquire enough wealth to fund a new way of life here or for families back home. For many, sadly, this never becomes their reality. However, Felipe did, one very hot August afternoon, encounter the truths of his childhood imitated by those who dared to live the Word while defining a word – neighbor!