A few weeks ago, in the run up to a discussion about the Border, I started kicking around an idea that I haven’t seen anywhere else. My friend Jason Evans has started prodding me to spit it out, so this is a first attempt, to which I hope comments and discussion will flush out a forming discussion about Jesus, the immigrant.
I see at least two specific references to Jesus as an immigrant. The first practical, the second theological.
First the practical, Jesus is a Galilean and is referred to as such throughout the Gospels. Our modern conception of nation states did not exist at the time of Jesus, so neither our modern conception of “immigrants.” However, Jesus and his followers are remarked upon throughout the Gospels as “Galileans” and have an outsider status in Jerusalem because they are from client kingdom in the North. This was not a positive association for the residents of Jerusalem. Jesus was thought of in Jerusalem similarly to how Mexican and other Latin American immigrants are thought of in the U.S. based upon “outsider” geo-political status.
Now to the Theological, we learn in the prologue to John’s Gospel that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Trinitarian’s “Son’s” experience is that of coming to dwell among humanity. This “dwelling among” might be faithfully rendered “immigrated to.” We hear in the prologue that ” He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him.” Jesus’ outsider or immigrant status is confirmed in that his people do not recognize him. God’s identity in Jesus is as a stranger, an identity thrust upon him by those who do not recognize who he is. The divine is identified as an outsider, as an immigrant.
Seeing Jesus Christ as an immigrant gives us a lens through which we see his action in scripture.
We see Jesus consistently including outsiders in his ministry. He reveals himself to a Samaritan Woman as the Messiah. He includes Matthew the Roman tax collector, and Simon the Zealot among his apostles. He ministers with women, children, lepers, and gentiles. Understanding Jesus as an immigrant outsider helps to articulate the Christological reasoning behind the need for the inclusion of the outsider. Jesus himself was treated as, had the cultural identity of, the outsider.
Beyond that Jesus calls his followers toward an immigrant identity. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” tends to be heard figuratively, but the connotation is that the follower of Jesus is constantly seeking a homeland that is not her own. Christians are all united in their common identity as immigrants to the Kingdom of God, the promised future country in which the poor are uplifted, the hungry fed, the sinful forgiven, the outsiders included. As followers of Christ we are called to be immigrants seeking the Kingdom of God.
This issue is particularly salient in San Diego today because the Federal Government is planning to extend the double border fence and close off Border Field State park, the site of an annual Border Posada Pilgrimage. This park is one of the few places along the border that could be considered “proportional and humane,” the official wording of the Episcopal Church’s policy towards border enforcement. Family members can see one another through the fence, sit and have conversations. Every year hundreds of people gather on both sides for the Border Posada. The new fencing is being constructed without environmental impact study and with the Secretary of Homeland Security having voided all national laws pertaining to protecting the land including the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act and others.
Jesus would not have stood idly by in the face of this militant exclusion of immigrants. Indeed Christians cannot identify with the governmental and cultural powers that seek to exclude. St. Benedict taught that “All are to be welcomed as Christ.” If Judea had militantly walled out Galileans in the first century, Jesus’ ministry could not have happened. We are called to welcome the immigrants as Christ welcomed all, to see Jesus in the outsiders, and to follow the immigrant Jesus in search of a place where all are free, all are saved, all are loved; we are called to seek the Kingdom of God.