In my previous post, I wrote about the Christian imperative to respond to human need, specifically in relation to the situation on the U.S. southern border. This calling transcends and goes before the political concerns regarding policy and national immigration philosophy. As Christians, our calling to care for the poor and vulnerable cuts through the concerns of political policy and bids us first and foremost to greet the needy as if they were Jesus Christ himself. This truth is what I would like to continue considering in this post and how our relationship with Jesus informs this issue. We must consider how, as Christians, our response to human need is relevant to our relationship with Jesus.
As has been briefly alluded to, Jesus teaches that when he returns to judge the earth he will say to the faithful, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” explaining to them that “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40). Contrariwise, it is to those who refused such least brothers that he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). My friends, this is a hard saying with implications that are certainly challenging. If we are to take this teaching seriously, then we must realize that the immediacy of human need cuts through our partisan wrangling and endless debates regarding our own best interests.
Indeed, the importance of this call in Jesus’ teaching is to the point of associating the needs of the poor with the call of discipleship itself. Here, questions like “do immigrants make us stronger or weaker” is shown not only to be a question of second order priority to the church, but indeed may in fact be largely irrelevant to us. It is irrelevant because the call to discipleship not only can but, indeed, must and ought to cost us something; for it is to the same man that Jesus says both “come, follow me” and “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” In thinking through this issue, then, we must take seriously the extent to which Jesus expects us to place discipleship to him above all things, and how we are called in discipleship to care for the poor without caveat. Indeed, we are to see Christ himself in the faces of the poor and the needy and, in doing so, place their humanity above other concerns.
This leads me to my primary point, that it is imperative that we keep Jesus at the center of this issue. This begins with the realization that it was for the sake of humanity that Christ was crucified. This has two essential meanings for the issue at hand. First, we must realize the great value with which Jesus holds those people whom the world considers to be valueless. The challenge for the church is to resist the methodology of politics itself that wants to debate immigrants on the grounds of social and economic utility. It is not that we weigh in on one side or the other of this question. Rather, it is a question which we reject. We must rip from our faces the eyes of political and economic interest in order to see clearly the path of the crucified Lord. It is not exactly that such questions broadly have no relevance. It is, however, the case that they are not relevant to the church’s ministry of mercy and human dignity for those in need. Our task in its essence is not political or economic, but theological. Second, we must understand our obligation to Jesus. It was for our sake that Jesus Christ was crucified when we, in our essence, had no claims or rights at all regarding this act of unmerited grace. We, as recipients of this unmerited grace, are obliged to love others with such prodigal grace as well, regardless of the benefit to us. We are forced, then, to consider a series of question in regard to the border issue.
- How can we love immigrants as Christ loves them?
- Where are the strangers in our community? What can we do for those before us in our communities?
- What should we, who owe a debt of infinite significance, do for the sake of Christ?
- What should we, who owe all to Jesus, do for those in whom we are instructed by Jesus to find his presence?
- What would we do for him if Jesus arrived in south Texas? What would we do if he arrived in Raleigh? What will you do if in fact Jesus has arrived in both south Texas and Raleigh under the guise of the poor and destitute?
- What can our communities and churches do for the poor, both globally and locally?
These questions are the lens through which we must consider the issue for, as we know, in the end he will say to us both “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” and “as you did not do it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did not do it to me.”
Reflecting on this issue in a way that is informed by the teachings of Jesus, I have made a few points. The central point, however, is that in considering this issue we keep the gospel of Jesus Christ front and center. Before we consider any approach or strategy, then, we must take as our maxim that in all things let the name of Jesus Christ be magnified. In all that we say, live and do in regard to this issue we must ask the extent to which it relates us to the crucified and risen Lord. In taking this approach, we can begin to think seriously about what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to greet the needy as if they were the Lord himself and how we can take up our cross and follow Jesus. In doing this, we can cut through the complexities of the political situation to recognize the call to discipleship at the center, along with the immediacy of human need, which calls us to walk with the poor in following Jesus. In doing this we can not only bring the love of Christ to the needs of the world but can witness to the greatness of our God and Savior. In every aspect of this issue then, just as in every aspect of our lives, let Christ be glorified.
Elijah Luikham, Missionary Curate with Trinity on the Border
About Elijah Luikham
Elijah joined Trinity on the Border in 2020 as the second Missionary Curate. Trinity on the Border is a chapel and outreach ministry serving primarily among the vulnerable. Elijah’s work includes working with immigrants from around the world and the poor by leading worship services, working pastorally and in chaplain capacities, teaching classes for the migrants and refugees, and reaching out and visiting the poor on both sides of the border, as well as being flexible and adaptive to the changing situation on the border. The goal of this ministry is to bring the love of Christ to the poor and suffering at the border, many of whom are refugees or else extremely impoverished. Trinity on the Border is a Holy Trinity global ministry partner. Learn more at https://thebordermission.org/.