‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . I was a foreigner and you did not invite me in.”
The Gospel lesson in this week’s lectionary reminds us that Jesus was no lap cat savior but the roaring Lion of Judah. He came as a King to set up a Kingdom, and even though His Kingdom is non-violent, it doesn’t mean His demand for allegiance doesn’t bring about tough decisions, drastic reorientations and painful division. Here’s the reading from Luke 12:49-56:
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
Speaking of divisiveness, how about the ongoing political debate over border security, refugees and immigration? Does Jesus, himself a refugee, have any opinions on the matter? If so, do we have ears to hear Him above the political rancor?
In the scripture above, Jesus laments that the spiritual leaders of his day were decent at reading the ancient equivalent of the Doppler radar but hopelessly aloof to “how to interpret this present time.” Reading between the lines, he’s calling out their ideological blindspots and warning them to make sure they are aligned with Him on the divisive issues of the present time.
Recently a Pew Research Center survey revealed that white evangelicals are least likely to say U.S. should accept refugees. Only 25% of white evangelicals say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees. Meanwhile, people with no religious affiliation were most likely to say the U.S. does have that responsibility. This is disheartening to say the least.
The immigration issue is extremely complex and there are no easy solutions. Responsible American citizens, and especially elected government leaders, are right to consider first the safety of this nation, and promote legislation that best serves “our own” citizens and “our own” interests.
However, Christians who have pledged allegiance to Christ’s new Kingdom have been given a new citizenship. At our baptism we are plunged into a new family made up of brothers and sisters from “every tribe, tongue and nation”—Mexican believers, Palestinian Christ-followers, Canadian Christians, etc.
When someone says, “Sure, we need to be more compassionate toward refugees and immigrants, BUT we first need to protect ‘our own’ borders and care for ‘our own’ people—such a person is not thinking Christianly, but rather as a citizen of an earthly nation-state. Such a person has not undergone full conversion until they begin to rethink who “our own” people now are “in Christ.” This offensive sounding sentiment is nevertheless the basic and clear teaching of the New Testament. Sadly, at least among many Evangelical Christians on the conservative side of the political divide, national identity and American patriotism often outweigh baptismal identity and Kingdom patriotism.
A time of reckoning will come, and I pray American Christians will courageously let the words of Jesus speak louder than FoxNews, and repent of tendencies toward nationalistic idolatry. In fact, according to Jesus, our posture and attitude toward “the foreigner” may affect our eternal destiny. These are his words, not mine:
“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 (or foreigner) and you welcomed 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 he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared 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 (or foreigner) 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” (Matt 25:31-36, 41-43).
Again, I have no idea how to solve the border crisis and I recognize Jesus’ teachings sound hopelessly impractical and idealistic. Jesus followers must at least let them stir our own pot and give us pause. We need to factor them into the equation.
That’s part of the point: Jesus’ entire mission and the goal of the movement and community he left behind was not a worldly political platform to run a nation-state by, but a revolution of the human heart and vision for a global community comprised of people from every nation called to embody in their local context a microcosm of God’s coming Reign. We may be flummoxed by what political legislation to vote for, but we can be certain that followers of Jesus should be captivated by a spirit of love and compassion and desire to welcome toward all good-intentioned people seeking refuge and a better life.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that disciples of Jesus don’t follow His teachings because they “work” in bringing about a better world, but because I’m called to obey and bear witness to the Future World already acheived at the cross and Resurrection on surely on its way. Until He returns in glory, we are to pray for more and more of that Kingdom to be experienced on earth as it is in Heaven right now, and to guard against getting caught up in the nasty political power-games of the world that derive from and indulge our “lower natures.” Listen to the ancient wisdom of Peter about the true warefare of our day:
“Dear friends, I entreat you as pilgrims and foreigners not to indulge the cravings of your lower natures: for all such cravings wage war upon the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
As we scan social media and watch the news these days, let us avoid getting pulled into the muck and mire of graceless politicking that so ruthlessly “wage war upon the soul.” Instead, let us find ways to locally bless lives and make a difference for the “least of these” (Matt 25:40). Remember our King’s words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). Let’s remember which Kingdom and King we serve.