Thoughts on the immigration debate from the Gospel of John

Daren Blanck

Last Sunday the text for my message was from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus travels through the land of Samaria and meets a woman at a well in the town of Sychar. After a conversation about “living water” and Jesus’ revelation to her that he was the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew scriptures, she left her water pot behind and went to tell everyone about the man she said, “told me everything I’ve ever done.” One could say that this foreign woman became the very first missionary in John’s gospel!

What is remarkable about this story is that most Jewish religious teachers would have had nothing to do with either a Samaritan, whom they considered heretics and half-breeds, or a woman. Jesus’ radical welcome of the Samaritan woman into transformation – into the Kingdom of God – is just one of many examples of a concern for the foreigner. Elsewhere he heals the servant of a Roman centurion and a woman from Syria, and in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus commends the sheep for welcoming the stranger.

Christians are compelled by Christ to walk in his footsteps. It’s no wonder, then, that many Christians have taken a stand for immigrant rights in the politically charged debate regarding immigration that is occurring in our nation right now.

But there are two sides of this story, and I believe it’s worth understanding the whole witness of scripture in this regard. In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus warns his disciples about those who would enter the sheepfold to kill and destroy. The apostle Paul said to have nothing to do with such as these. Throughout the gospels, Jesus’ radical welcome extended to all seekers, but not to the Pharisees who hated him, and not to those whose pretense at godliness was conceit. They were only welcome when they gave up their old life for new, when they repented and were changed from the inside out. Living in the Kingdom of God means life lived with Kingdom values – the values of the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commandments.

Applying this to the national debate, it is clear that some who wish to come here have values that are far from Kingdom values. One only has to listen to chants of “Death to America” on the streets of Tehran or understand the motivations of ISIS to realize the truth of this. Advocating death for apostates, violence against infidels and second-class status for women, their ideology, in fact, runs counter to Kingdom values and counter to the values of democracy. Those Christians who insist on secure borders and a reassessment of our immigration policy rightly suggest that such ideologies, regardless of religion, have no place in American democracy.

Though it’s tangential to the DACA fight, convoluted by talk of grandiose border walls, and obscured in court cases over the president’s overly broad “Muslim ban,” I see the basic issue from a Christian viewpoint as how to balance Jesus’ directive to welcome the stranger with his warning to beware of those who would kill and destroy. How do we live Kingdom values while preserving Kingdom values from extinction?

Jesus’ most radical act in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well wasn’t in blurring the lines between Jews and foreigners, his conversation with her makes this clear. What made all the difference was seeing her as a person.

For me, this is the key to how I think about the whole debate. Immigrants aren’t labels; they are people. People with individual stories to tell and unique gifts and talents to share. Some of them really are true believers of very bad ideological systems and don’t belong here, but most of them are people like the Samaritan woman – strangers that followers of Christ are called to welcome.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. This week our contributor is Daren Blanck, pastor of Zoar Church in Tofte, a teacher at William Kelley High School and a student of Beyond the River Academy, a ministry program of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

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