Matthew 25 Near and Far: Spirit Soundings by Elder Vijay Aggarwal
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
As I reflect on these words from Jeremiah, my heart is overwhelmed by two experiences. The first is my recent trip to the Mexican border on behalf of our Presbytery. There I was reminded of migration as a human condition. As long as there have been people on this earth, we have been in motion, fleeing from violence, seeking a better life, safety for our families or a new beginning. And the second is World Communion Sunday, where we are united in faith with people from around the world. A potent reminder that no matter our country of origin, or station in life, we are all created in God’s image.
The commonality of our migration and our connectedness as people of a gracious God, also remind me of the words of Leviticus, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ).
Fortunately for many of us, our ancestors migrated to this country when there was no distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Immigration only required that you were in relatively good physical health and showed up at a port of entry. It was not until the late 1800s that we began to place restrictions on immigration. Many of us, myself included, were lucky enough to win the birth lottery – meaning we were born of parents who were either in this country already or had the resources and ability to immigrate legally.
This message from Jeremiah reminds all of us that, no matter how we came into a foreign land, we are to regain a sense of normalcy and make a new life in new surroundings. The reasons for immigration into this country are as varied as those who undertake the journey. Some have undoubtedly come here with evil intent; most have come for the same reasons many of our ancestors migrated. It may be impossible to balance the rule of law with the desire of people to enter this country. However, once here, I believe we are called not to judge their decision, but to welcome the alien amongst us and reach out with compassion to those in our community.
I pray, as God’s people, we will seek unity over division, grace over judgment, understanding over opinion, and compassion over condemnation. As a people of faith, let us look to the one who created all people in God’s image, and trusting in God, use our faith to guide our feet and voices as we do God’s work in this world. I pray we can all address the consequences of human migration in a way that keeps Christ at the center of our actions and rhetoric.
The trip to the Mexican border was both disconcerting and a unique blessing. Although it was difficult and upsetting in many ways, I am especially grateful for the heightened sensitivity this trip provided to immigration issues in our own community- from the asylum court in Center City, Philadelphia to the intended home for immigrant children in Devon, and the congregations in our midst that serve immigrant communities. We do not need to travel hundreds of miles to see ways that we can live into the promise of Matthew 25.
As we have additional opportunities for discernment around the many complex issues of migration, I look forward to finding ways within our presbytery to move from awareness to action; from sympathy to out-reach; and from despair to advocacy.