Archive for July, 2012

“What Would Jesus Do” with Illegal Immigrants?

July 9th, 2012 by Beyth Hogue Greenetz

This essay was originally published at Uncommon God, Common Good on June 4, 2012.


By Paul Louis Metzger

You may have heard of people wearing bracelets that signify their opposition to Arizona’s laws on illegal immigration. I don’t know how many of the people wearing those bracelets are Christians. But I do know many Christians wear bracelets that ask, “What would Jesus do?” Some people may oppose asking this question in the context of discussing illegal immigrants, but what context or border crossing is off-limits to Jesus? In the course of this article’s development, I will address various points raised in response to my piece “The Illegal Samaritan” about obedience to the governing authorities, including giving a cup of water to an illegal immigrant.

In discussing matters pertaining to obedience to governing authorities, it is worth noting that Jesus sometimes broke the law of the land.

For instance, Jesus broke the law of the land by healing people on the Sabbath (Jn. 5:16-18). We can try and justify his actions by saying that these laws were misinterpretations of the Mosaic Law. Regardless, the religious leaders’ stance (no healing on the Sabbath) was the religious law of the land of his day. Jesus broke their law in view of a higher law (his rightful interpretation of the Mosaic Law).

I am reminded here of Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote from his jail cell in Birmingham that we have a duty to disobey unjust laws, albeit peaceably. I believe Dr. King got this idea from the King of kings. King claimed that St. Augustine argued that an unjust law is no law at all. King refused to obey the unjust segregation laws of the land. Our country now righty hails Dr. King as a national hero for opposing the laws of segregation in his day. In his day, as in the Birmingham jail ordeal, he was often called a rebel and a criminal.

Further to what was said above, Jesus broke the law of the land in view of his interpretation of the Mosaic Law—a better interpretation of it.

For Jesus, the love of God with all one’s heart and the love of neighbor as oneself summed up the essence of the Law. All other laws were to be viewed in terms of this core, essential teaching in the Law (See Jesus’ discussion with the religious leader on the greatest teaching in the Law in Mark 12:28-34; see also Luke 10:25-37). That does not mean that Jesus would not be judged. The leaders’ interpretation of the Sabbath law and how to apply it was definitive in their day. They were the authorities, and their interpretation had finality in their day in their courts, not Jesus’ interpretation. Jesus broke their law not to work/heal on the Sabbath because he believed it oppressed the person in need whom he encountered. Jesus wasn’t about to wait until the beginning of the work week. If Jesus had opportunity to heal a person whose path he crossed, he healed that person regardless of the day of the week. Jesus wouldn’t likely be crossing that individual’s path again (and the lame, blind, sick or diseased person wasn’t able to follow Jesus), as Jesus was an itinerant preacher; so he acted in the moment.

Jesus was willing to suffer the consequences for his actions.

Jesus knew what the authorities would do to him. He acted anyway (Mk. 3:1-6). He did not wait to see the laws changed (and we can gather from the Gospel accounts, the authorities had no intention of changing the law). Jesus acted in accordance with his interpretation of the Law, even though his interpretation was not viewed as authoritative by those in authority, and he was willing to suffer the consequences for his action based on his rightful interpretation.

What would we do?

Would we wait before the laws change according to democratic process to care for someone in need, such as an illegal immigrant? While we should seek to change laws that keep us from giving a cup of water to an illegal immigrant (wherever such laws might exist), we should give the cup of water in the meantime, for the person is in need. The Bible does not tell us to help only those people who are law-abiding citizens. Jesus helped people breaking laws; in fact, he urged the lame man to break the authorities’ law. By telling this Jewish man to take up his mat and walk, Jesus was making the man a collaborator in his crime (Jn. 5:8-12).

Christians are called to help everyone in need. Now an illegal immigrant is not abiding by America’s laws. Whether you give the cup of water to him or her while calling the authorities (as a friend suggested) or not, you are to give the cup of water to him or her in need.

Now to the criminality of illegal immigrants. If you and I lived in poverty and our families were starving, what would we do? Would we be willing to risk separation from our families, our health, and possibly our lives to travel illegally to another country and work illegally? Would we risk being called “criminal”? It is very difficult for me to know what I would do, given that I am writing this piece in a comfortable armchair, having just finished a full breakfast. What do you expect from an armchair theologian? Better yet, what does God expect from this theologian and from all of us? I am not seeking to justify these illegal immigrants’ actions, but rather seeking to nuance our decision-making process and our views of these individuals regarding their actions, including the labels we put on them. The hungier we are and the hungrier our families are, the hungrier we are to take matters into our own hands, regardless of the consequences.

What will we do?

Will we make sure that our authorities care for the needs of illegal immigrants and treat them as humans, even while deporting them?

Will we view illegal immigrants as criminals? Will we view a father of five who is trying to feed his family by crossing illegally into America to work illegally a criminal? Even if we view this father of five as committing crimes, we must still view him (and others like him) as human and who is in need of our love and care. Give him the cup of water, when he is suffering from dire thirst.

Will we advocate for the children of illegal immigrants, as proposed in Dream Act legislation, to make a new life here in the States? Some of them have grown up here and know no other country. Will we deport them for their parents’ crimes, or allow them to become law-abiding citizens who can pursue further education and find gainful employment?

Will we seek to get at the source of why so many people risk life and limb to come to America to work for low wages to care for their loved ones who have come with them, or to whom they will send money back home? As the cliché goes, we live in a global village. We need to make sure that we are caring not only for people in our household, or in our neighborhood, but also for people across the tracks in other parts of the village (across US borders in various directions).

Will we ponder Jesus’ words uttered at the ultimate border crossing—from earth to heaven or hell?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“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.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fireprepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus does not talk here in Matthew 25:31-46 about earthly laws, but heavenly laws that supersede earthly laws and to which the earthly laws are accountable. Certainly, Jesus’ apostles tell us to obey earthly rulers (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; still, please note the intriguing development in Romans 13: from obedience to one’s earthly, political rulers; to obedience to the law of love as paramount; to consideration of the day of the Lord and how we are to behave in view of that impending day). But Jesus’ apostles also broke human laws, such as refusing to stop speaking about Jesus publicly. So, adherence to human laws depends on whether or not these laws are viewed as just according to God’s higher law centered in Jesus. The same Peter who spoke in 1st Peter 2 about obeying political leaders disobeys the theocratic rulers of his people in his allegiance to Jesus in Acts 4:18-20, and rejoices with the Christian community for suffering under these authorities for being publicly identified with Jesus (Acts 5:27-42). Refer back to Jesus’ accounts of law-breaking noted earlier. In addition to Jesus breaking the authorities’ recognized Sabbath law, Jesus also touched a leper, thereby breaking the Mosaic Law, though by healing him, he fulfilled the heart of the Law (Mark. 1:40-42). Of course, Jesus is all about fulfilling the Mosaic Law’s concern for the Sabbath (after all, in him we find our ultimate Sabbath rest), and also its concern for the cleansing of the leper, as is illustrated here in what follows in Mark 1: Jesus commands the cleansed man to go and do what is required of him in the Law (Mark. 1:44). In short, Jesus resists the recognized Jewish legal authorities at times for their wrongful interpretation of the Mosaic Law as it bears on caring for one’s neighbor—the person in need; Jesus is all about fulfilling the Mosaic Law, and so cares for the person in need.

What will we do in view of this higher law as it concerns the illegal immigrant? He or she is our neighbor, if he or she is on our path. Closer to home, what will we do, if the illegal immigrant is our brother or friend, our brother in Christ, or if he is Jesus in disguise? Who’s to say Jesus wouldn’t appear to us as an illegal immigrant (after all, he died a rebel’s death, so why would he not come to us as an illegal immigrant close to death, dying of thirst)? And whether or not Jesus does appear to us in this way, we who claim to follow Jesus are to appear to the illegal immigrant as Jesus would.

Of course, we need to be concerned for upholding good laws in our land that pertain to immigration. Of course, we need to be concerned for how these laws bear upon our own citizens in terms of their safety and economic well-being. These are complicated issues. In fact, these issues are more complicated that we often realize. As suggested in this piece, there can be no easy or pat answers. I am not trying to simplify matters. As I said above, I am seeking to nuance our decision-making process. As citizens of this land, we have responsibilities. These responsibilities are complicated by the fact that as Americans we are also citizens of this globe, and as Christian Americans, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

You may not agree with me about everything in this article. But hopefully, if you are a Christian, you will agree that our ultimate allegiance must be to Jesus. So, what Jesus would do should matter to you and me more than anything, regardless of the consequences. Next time you come to a border crossing, think about your various allegiances (including the allegiance to yourself) and forms of citizenship, and which has priority. In the end, Jesus will let us know which authority mattered most to us. His judgment concerning our eternal citizenship will matter most in the end.

The Illegal Samaritan

July 9th, 2012 by Beyth Hogue Greenetz

This essay was originally published in Unity in Christ Magazine on April 24, 2012.


By Paul Louis Metzger

The Good Samaritan story recorded in Luke 10:25-37 could have been titled The Illegal Samaritan story, too. It just depends on who’s telling the tale. Jesus told it first, and so he naturally, or better supernaturally, put a redemptive spin on it.

The Samaritan in this story should have never crossed the road to tend to the Jewish man (the story implies that the robbed and beaten man was Jewish). Why shouldn’t the Samaritan have crossed the road to tend to him? Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans (See Jn. 4:9), and I doubt many Samaritans would have liked for this Samaritan man to associate with Jews. Not even the Jewish religious leaders crossed the boundary in that the half-dead man was probably given up for dead, and they would have been made unclean for touching him (See Num. 19:11). How ironic then that an unclean Samaritan came close, touched the half-dead Jewish man, tended to his wounds, and made him clean.

We all have relational boundaries and borders we won’t cross because of written laws and unspoken rules. The Jewish religious leaders wouldn’t cross to tend to their own because of their laws and rules, whereas the Samaritan crossed because of the law written on his heart. Jesus puts to story form the Law’s command to love our neighbors—those created in the image of God like us—as ourselves. All other laws and customs take a back seat to it and the law that leads to it—loving God with our whole being (Lk. 10:27).

Jesus tells this story to a religious leader, who had come to test Jesus. The religious hierarchy was afraid of Jesus. As illustrated by this story, he was a threat to their positions and to national security (See also Jn. 11:48, where they fear Jesus for his miraculous signs). If given space and time, Jesus would have done away with the boundaries and closed border barriers that kept people of different ethnic and economic heritages separate from one another (Actually, he did remove those barriers through the cross and resurrection, and we have crossed those barriers through our baptism by faith in him [See for example Gal. 3:23-29]. May we live into our life in Christ!).

What would have happened to the Jewish community’s sense of solidarity as a people, if they had allowed Jesus to continue teaching such propaganda? Jesus messed with their personal boundaries and geographic boundaries. Just as he told a lowly Samaritan woman that true worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth (not on this or that mountain (Jn. 4:19-24), so he told this Jewish religious leader he needed to become like this Samaritan and cross the border to care for his neighbor. This Jewish religious leader’s “neighbor” included the half-dead Jew, the half-Jew Samaritan, and everyone else with whom he would come into contact, for everyone is created in God’s image.

As in Jesus’ day, we have written laws and unspoken rules that tell us some people are more equal than others and that some bear God’s image more than others. Just like in the 1st Century A.D., Jesus messes with our boundaries and borders and tells us to tend to everyone and heal their wounds. What borders do we erect personally, nationally, religiously?

A student from Arizona in my world religions class in my evangelical seminary told me that he would never give a cup of water to an illegal immigrant because it is against the law in Arizona. Whether or not it is against the law in Arizona, it is not against Jesus’ law to give a cup of water to such a person. In fact, it would be against Jesus’ law not to give the cup of water to this neighbor, this fellow created in God’s image. Where did my student learn to think this way? From reading his Bible? From hearing sermons of this kind? He didn’t even struggle with his conviction, at least not outwardly. What would Jesus do? What would he have us do? Jesus tells this scholar (me) and that student’s pastors back home to go and do like the illegal Samaritan did and cross customs and boundaries and borders that keep people apart and care for the neighbor in need. If we do so, not only will they live, but also we will live. As Jesus tells the religious leader, so he tells us now: “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37).

Can We All Get Along?

July 3rd, 2012 by Beyth Hogue Greenetz

This essay was originally posted at Uncommon God, Common Good on June 22, 2012.


By Paul Louis Metzger

The late Rodney King’s famous five words will stick with us for a long time: “Can we all get along?” He uttered these words in a public statement during the LA Riots, riots which were sparked by his savage beating by Los Angeles police officers captured on video. From an obituary in The New York Times, I found that Mr. King did not welcome the celebrity spotlight and did not see himself as a civil rights role model. Even so, his beating and his words will forever be etched in our national consciousness.

Is it enough that we all get along? I would assume Rodney King would agree that more is needed. This calls to my mind the 2004 movie Crash, which chronicles racial strife, fragmentation and objectification in a post-LA Riots Los Angeles. In the film, people in the city are behind metal and glass all the time, according to one of the police detectives in the show. As a result, they miss the sense of touch so much that they crash into one another on the city streets and highways of LA.

We all miss the sense of touch, if and when we are not touched in sensitive and wholesome ways. The absence of touch is not the answer to moving past hatred and strife to getting along, and co-existence is not enough. Tolerance will only get us so far. We need to embrace one another in the midst of our differences and animosities. We need to be tenacious to move beyond our sense of superiority and/or inferiority, of entitlement, of presumption, and of prejudice and seek out and touch “the other.” Of course, this is so much easier said than done for me, indeed for all of us.

The victimizer and the victim alike are called to seek reconciliation. The weight of reconciliation should not be on the shoulders of the victimized. The initiative should certainly come from the guilty party or parties. And yet, how will we respond, if we have been victimized, and those who have dealt the physical and emotional and spiritual blows won’t deal with their issues? Jesus’ example should encourage and energize us, just as he inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. John M. Perkins. May God give each of us the grace to reach out through our pain through God’s victorious suffering in Jesus.

Jesus didn’t simply get along with people. Jesus didn’t endure people. I am so thankful John 3:16 does not say, “For God so tolerated the world that he chose not to send his Son.” I am so thankful it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his Son.” This world for which Jesus gave his life was not a welcoming place. It was not a world that was all sunshine and daffodils. It was a world at war with God (Romans 5:8-10), and which put him on that cross—that lynching tree—of horror and shame (See James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, for his exploration of the symbols of the cross and lynching tree in the African American community’s experience).

Rodney King’s redemptive response in the face of his beating was radical. But even more redemptive and radical was Jesus’ cry to his Father to forgive his enemies for they did not know what they were doing (Luke 23:34; following his model, his disciple Stephen did the same: Act 7:60). Mr. King reached out. Dr. King reached out and called for the love of his enemies in light of the King of kings who set the ultimate example and paid the ultimate price so that we could do more than get along. Through him, we can love one another. And still, the only way we can do this is by responding to his love in the Spirit that he longs to pour out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). Will we dare to draw near to Jesus and to one another? Let’s draw from the examples of Mr. King, Dr. King, and especially the King of kings and live in view of them.

What I take away from Rodney King’s famous five words is their symbolic importance to keep reaching out even when it is hard, even when you and I have been treated most unjustly. What I take away from these five words is that they take me back to Jesus’ famous ten words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Tolerance has its place, but love leaves no place for indifference and hate in LA or any other place. May the love of Jesus compel victimizer and victim alike to move forward in search of reconciliation that moves us beyond getting even or just getting along to getting together and being made whole.

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