Originally posted Dec. 21, 2010, at Manna Nebraska. Republished with permission of the author.
There are many, many rich texts throughout all of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles such as Leviticus 19:34, which states: “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.”
But for this post, I want to use the story of Lazarus at the gate from Luke 16:19-34 as a foundation for my series on immigration policy.
The story should be familiar to most of us. Jesus was talking to a group of Pharisees who were lovers of money.
He told the following story:
There once was a rich man who dressed in purple and wore fine linen. He feasted sumptuously every day.
Outside his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus was covered with sores and longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.
Unfortunately, for Lazarus, there were no scraps and the dogs that licked his sores provided his only comfort. Both the rich man and Lazarus died.
Lazarus was taken up to be with father Abraham, while the rich man suffered torment in Hades. When he looked up, the rich man saw Lazarus with father Abraham.
Reading between the lines, one quickly understands that the rich man then had a much more complete understanding of how God viewed his indifference to Lazarus.
There is a lot of rich symbolism in this text. First, the rich man’s dress is significant. Purple was reserved for royalty and the priests were dressed in fine linen.
Thus, it doesn’t take a great leap in logic for us to understand that to Jesus the rich man represents the people of Israel — the royal priesthood.
In Hebrew “Lazarus” literally means: “God is my help.”
This imagery would have been much more significant to Jesus’ audience than it is to us. To them it would have been readily apparent that Jesus was comparing the people of Israel to those who excluded other people.
Most likely, they would have been astonished that Jesus referred to the outsider as “Lazarus” — God is my help.
To them, the Lazarus in the story could have represented those who were considered unclean by virtue of disease, sin, as the Pharisees understood it.
Likewise, Jesus could have been referring to women and Gentiles — anyone considered being on the outside by the people of Israel at the time. There certainly is a veiled reference to Gentiles by Jesus’ use of the term “dogs,” as that would have been a term the people of Israel used to refer to Gentiles during Jesus’ day.
When I last preached on this text, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between those living in the United States and those so desperately seeking to enter it.
For most of my 53 years, I’ve been steeped in the understanding that, as a citizen of the United States, I live in a “nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
I have been taught that if I work hard enough, I can do anything and have anything I want.
I have been taught that one of the surest measures of success is how much I have and how comfortable my life is. While some of my friends will likely argue that I’m being somewhat cynical or jaded in that analysis, I think it’s fairly accurate.
I often hear people talk about their financial success in terms of “blessings.”
I look at our society and see houses with two and three-stall garages, some of which are so filled with stored-up possessions, the cars sit outside.
But at our southern border, I see people who would be thankful to live in the equivalent of a one-stall garage.
Like Lazarus, who longed for the rich man’s leftovers, people in Mexico and Central and South America look to their neighbors to the north and see the opulence. They long to live on the leftovers knowing they can live a much better life inside the gate than they can on the outside.
So how does this text speak to us in relation to U.S. immigration policy?
What I hear most good Christian people in the United States saying is that they believe our policies are “fair and reasonable,” and that all those who want to come to the United States need do is apply, be approved and enter.
As we’ll see throughout this series, though, our immigration policies have never been like that. In fact, our policies have always been pretty selective in terms of whom we will allow in.
Our current policies are, in fact, so restrictive, it is virtually impossible for anyone south of the border to enter the United States legally for the purpose of becoming a United States citizen.
I don’t pretend to have any particular insight into what God wants from us other than I do know God expects us to use our blessings to bless others and that God expects us to be loving and compassionate in all we do.
Find a link to Chuck Bentjen blog Manna Nebraska at Lutheran Blogs.