Tuesday, April 4
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. . . . When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:18, 33-34).
Jesus’ teaching on the Greatest Commandment is found in Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:25-28. These accounts differ on small points: in all three, however, the whole of God’s law hangs on two essential prescriptions: love for God, and love for neighbor. Jesus’ first commandment comes from Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” His second commandment comes from today’s passage in Leviticus: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Some interpreters have proposed that this was an in-house commandment: “your neighbor” means “your fellow Israelite.” But Leviticus 19:33-34 demonstrates that this is far too narrow a reading. Here, love is commanded toward “the alien who resides with you” (the Hebrew term, as in yesterday’s passage, is ger) in the same language used in 19:18 for the neighbor: “you shall love the alien as yourself.” In fact this passage says, the ger “shall be to you as a citizen among you.”
We may not like this commandment—particularly if we are persuaded that immigrants and refugees pose a threat to us either economically, by taking our jobs and resources, or more fundamentally, through crime or terrorism. We could perhaps say that these words of Scripture address the community of faith, not the nation, and that national policy needs to be mindful of the security of our borders. But for the church and for the individual Christian, there is no passing this particular buck. We cannot even use the tired “Old Testament laws don’t apply to us” excuse, because Jesus has made eminently clear that this particular law does apply to us—second only to the command to love God. Certainly, unemployment, crime, and terrorism are real concerns (although we may legitimately ask if there is any evidence connecting those concerns to immigrants or refugees). But whether we like it or not, if we want to be followers of the Christ, we are commanded to love our neighbors—including immigrants and refugees—as we love ourselves.
“Thou who art over us,
Thou who art one of us,
Thou who art:
Give me a pure heart, that I may see thee;
a humble heart, that I may hear thee;
a heart of love, that I may serve thee;
a heart of faith, that I may abide in thee.”
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Dag Hammerskjöld, Markings, 1964)