On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 4 of 5ish

love your neighbor“Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful. They can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” Eli Wiesel

Neighborly: Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…

In his speech yesterday, President Obama said: “Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid (a young woman to whom from Mexico to whom he refers in his speech) – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in? . . . Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.”

Believe it or not, I began writing this multi-part essay on neighborliness a couple of months before I even knew the President was going to make a speech about immigration reform and sign an executive action delaying deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants. I’ve held the views that I’ve posited in these last several posts for a decade or two, but have just now finally put a few of my convictions into words.

If you know me you know that I can rarely be lured into any sort of debate on politics. One buddy of mine calls me his completely “apolitical” friend. It’s not that I don’t care about public policy or my civic duty to vote my conscience. I have opinions on moral issues that are debated in the public square and the laws that are made through our democratic system. On the other hand, since it’s quite clear to me that my calling is to be a preacher and teacher of the Bible I seldom wander far from that assignment and into territories in which others are much more proficient than I.

I say this, so that you’ll know that I claim possession of no simple solutions to the complex problems of immigration in our country. I merely hope to present a biblical viewpoint in regard to the Christian’s call to neighborliness. If after reading what the Bible says and my meager interpretations about how to treat our neighbors, which I believe clearly includes those who come to our country to escape intense poverty and / or life-threatening persecution, you come to a different conclusion than mine, I’d love to hear from you.

How this all works out in socio-political context, I proffer no opinion. I just know that God tells us repeatedly in his Word to love our neighbor and care for immigrants along with widows, orphans, and the poor. At the conclusion of this post I’ve given a short list of passages that indicate that our neighbors include the sort of people about whom politicians are debating right now. Read them for yourself and see if your own attitudes and opinions are shaped by greed or by God.

In Part 3 we were talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan and how the Bible expert looked for a way to lawyer his way out of having to act lovingly toward people he thought were his inferiors. He was willing to be neighborly in some cases, but he drew the line when it came to those Mexicans (or those Syrians or those Hondurans or you fill in the blank) who come over here and take our jobs and raise our taxes! Oops, did I say that out loud?

Neighborly toward some and not others? Let’s turn it around: “Toward whom am I not responsible to act humanely? Who do I have the luxury of treating with disdain? Who can I overlook and disallow in my circle of care? Who can I hurt instead of help, and get away with it? God, surely, you allow a certain amount of bigotry, a teensy bit of nationalistic and socioeconomic superiority.”

You have to appreciate, in response to the man’s inquiry, Jesus’ cleverly concocted parable. He cast a hated guy as the good guy in the story, and the homeboy as the destitute party. He made the one with whom they were the least neighborly, the most neighborly character in his story. Here’s what I mean.

When his Jewish contemporaries heard the parable they would naturally identify with the waylaid and wounded one. They felt robbed and left for dead by their Roman oppressors. It was no stretch for their imaginations to view themselves as the victimized. “The injustice of it all! Somebody come and save us!” So far so good – until the story unfolded and the hero was unveiled.

Jesus slyly inserted a despicable Samaritan as the protagonist, the role model. A heroic Samaritan helps the Jew! Right – wait, what? “Yeah, do like the Samaritan does. Be the kind of neighbor he was!” That would be paramount to telling a story to a conservative Christian audience in which the moral is to emulate, “Be like the Muslim, act like the atheist, or like the gay guy!”

Don’t you just hate it when God doesn’t hate the same people you do and when the people you don’t like are the very people you should be like? It’s a real bummer when those we evade in public, about whom we secretly sneer, whose proximity we take great pains to maintain superiority over are not only our neighbors, but who act more neighborly than we do! It’s hard to hate someone who is a better neighbor to me than I am to him. “Be like the one you believe is less than you. You might not agree with his religion, his cultural preferences, his lifestyle; but of all the bad things you could say about him, he does one thing especially well; he knows how to be a good neighbor. He loves people that aren’t like him. Go and do likewise!”

No wonder the religious right hated Jesus! This rates up there in the top ten politically incorrect things he ever said. They weren’t used to calling just anyone “neighbor.” Their own Bibles, maneuvered in a clever way, gave them plenty of ammunition to justify their nationalistic and religious elitism. After all, didn’t God say to stay clear from the other nations? Yes and no. He told them to stay clear of their ways not necessarily stay clear away from them. In fact, throughout that same Bible, God gave the Jews repeated commands to not only be a “light to the nations,” but to take up the care and cause of the immigrant – sometimes called the “stranger or alien” – even the ones most disdained or feared.*

Of all the people with whom the Jews were the least inclined to treat in a neighborly fashion were Samaritans. They avoided those people of questionable breeding like a bad cold, traversing around their quarantined territory whenever necessary. When they either had to go through the devil’s land or when the devil’s own citizens wandered off their “reservation,” the strictest of Jews tended to be, let’s say, less than neighborly. Jesus, of course, had no such habit. Not only did he drag his disciples through Samaria in search of one particular morally degenerate woman, he commanded those men to, after his departure, be his witnesses among the cultic Samaritans (John 4 and Acts 1).

Could the ideology of the unwelcomed foreigner that many espouse be nothing but selfishness toward our neighbors, especially the most desperate of them? Some people seem to want to make it illegal to be a Samaritan here in America, let alone a “Good Samaritan.” You see somebody on the side of the road, breathing their last. Do you ask, “Are you okay?” Or, “Areyou legal?”


* Notice in the passages below, God seems to possess special concern for immigrants. In the Old Testament the “foreigner” is often referred to in the same breath as the “fatherless, the widow, and the poor,” all of which make up a sort of quartette of the most vulnerable in any society. In one of them you might be surprised to read that oppressing the outatowner appears linked to such evils as sorcery, adultery, and perjury!

To read these, copy this list of passages and paste it into biblegateway.com: Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 24:14-15, 24:17, 27:19, Leviticus 19:34, Ezekiel 22:29, Malachi 3:5

4 Replies to “On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 4 of 5ish”

  1. So then why have any borders at all? Are you saying that anyone who wants to come to America is welcome to come legally or illegally and we will take care of them? My responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to feed the hungry, take care of the widows and orphans, individuals, but are you saying that the USA is also responsible to welcome any and all who want to come here and upwards of 100,000 individuals? When God set up the nation of Israel did he setup borders to that nation? Do we have a nation if we do not have borders?


    1. I have to say at the outset that national pride is a good thing. I’m proud to be an American and tear up during the national anthem at ball games. I love our system of gov’t and our heritage and am proud of it. In fact, I’m so blessed by it that I don’t mind sharing some of the bounty of it with those who weren’t born with the same bounty in their countries. To me, that’s hospitality.

      As for throwing open our borders to anyone anytime, I can only refer you to my disclaimers in previous posts that how we go about it is above my pay grade. That we Christians must cultivate a spirit and culture of hospitality is, in my opinion, a biblical mandate. Standing at the border with “Go home!” posters is not the solution and should never be said of a follower of Jesus.

      As for national borders, I can’t prove from Scripture that God created them or approves of them. I personally don’t think he cares that much about them and may not care much for them. We’ll have to ask him when we get to the place where we have our eternal citizenship. We know that he hates bigotry based on nationality (nationalism). He loves people, but I don’t know that we can say that he loves countries, nationalities, or sociopolitical entities.

      Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Essentially he was saying that democracy has many flaws and problems but all the others have more problems. Like Tony Campolo said, “Don’t get me wrong. I love America. I believe it’s the best Babylon on earth. But it’s still Babylon (Revelation 18-19). It’s not the kingdom of God.”

      The borders the world round usually represent that someone stronger conquered someone weaker. National boundaries change when one group has more firepower than another and wants to extend their border. The idea of the “Manifest Destiny,” that U.S. is a chosen land that had allotted the whole of North American continent by God was used to justify the acquisition of California, Oregon, and most of the Southwest, including Texas, in the Mexican-American War. I’m not inclined to think that’s something that God was pleased with, but I don’t know.

      As far as I am aware, the only national borders that God took any particular interest in was the land he promised to Abraham. I could be wrong about this and would welcome correction from Scripture, but I don’t see anything in the New Testament showing any concern of his about national borders. Certainly, in contrast to the ideas of certain teachers of eschatology, America isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible. That’s only in the Book of Mormon! Just being silly here.

      “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Philippians 3:20 which is not to imply that we shouldn’t have an allegiance to our country here. But our first allegiance is to heaven and its values. Our homeland is not so much the place/nation we happen to live, but to the eternal home we’re going to.

      Just some random thoughts. Love you, bro.


  2. I respectfully disagree with you. I do love your heart and love for people. I do not believe the verses you state are referring to country to country but actually person to person or neighbor to neighbor. If I were to come home and find someone in my living room uninvited I would be very upset. They have eaten my food. They were not invited; they were sneaking in the back door. They just took what I worked for to feed my own family. They were not invited in. They did not work for the benefit of the food they are eating. I did and now my children are not going to have food to eat because they took it. That is a very cruel and harsh way of getting my point across. My responsibility is to see that my family is taken care of first and foremost!

    Is America being “neighborly” to our vets that are not receiving what is is due them because it is not available now? Is America being “neighborly” to our college students that can not attend because our grants are being given to foreign students. Is America being “neighborly” to our communities that are now dealing with crime due to the influx of immigrants?

    I totally believe the Bible sets forth boundaries. Duet. 32:8 says that God set up borders. I do not believe that America should be turned into a 3rd world country and that is exactly where we are headed. Do I hurt when I see a child or any person hurting? Absolutely! But that goes for America too.


    1. Thanks for your comments. You’ve given me some food for thought.

      I guess, first of all I want to say again that I absolutely don’t have the solution to the geopolitical issues we’re talking about. Social or political sciences were never my forte. My proposal is a worldview that as far as I can see is biblical, not any sort of strategic solution to the complex immigration debate. I think that this worldview says that God has a higher value for the needs of all his people than for wants of some of them.

      13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality. 2 Corinthians 8:13-14

      He says, “equality,” but I don’t think Paul was a socialist. He encouraged a culture of generosity.
      In the same way, he told Timothy to command the rich “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6) I’m no socialist either, but I do like the thought of a capitalism with a compassionate conscience. Again, how to implement that is above my pay grade.

      I totally hear what you’re saying in your hypothetical example, and I don’t know what I’d do about an uninvited hungry intruder in my kitchen with my kids in the other room playing. But months ago I did read an article from the Wall Street Journal (not your most liberal rag) where they surveyed economists, and 44 out of 46 thought that illegal immigration was actually and ultimately good for our economy.

      I’m pretty sure that even if everyone from Mexico were to migrate here, I don’t know that my children or grandchildren would starve as in the example you give. They might have to eat less extravagantly, which might do us all some good. I agree that I’m responsible for my own family first, but I don’t see such a stark conflict here between their needs and the needs of the poor in our world. The contrast would be between our wants and someone else’s needs.

      I’ve been thinking about the sheep and goats parable where Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in.” Matthew 25:43

      Apparently “stranger” is not word that just describes primarily those with whom we’re not acquainted, like, “You’re a stranger to these parts aren’t you?” It’s a term that usually refers to “foreigners.” It was used in Matthew 27 to describe the potter’s field that was a burial place for “foreigners.” I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the term “hospitality” in the NT is this same term with “phileo” in the front, meaning the “love of strangers.” I’m not saying that we’re only being hospitable when we’re inviting foreigners to dinner, but it has to be part of it.

      Sorry for the longwinded response. I do appreciate your thoughts. Blessings to you.


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