Jesus Is at the Border
I am not a politician, so I’m not an expert on immigration policies.
I am not an economist, so I’m not an expert on the economic benefits or burdens of immigration.
But I am a public theologian. I try to understand how we can participate with God in setting things right, healing the world, and reconciling human beings with one another, with the world, and with God.
How is God setting things right? Jesus, in one of his most important, if also confusing, prayers, offered these words of unity to the one he called Father. In this prayer, we discover how God is setting things right:
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as you and I are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them even as you have loved me.
In order to explain this prayer, Christian tradition resorted to a term that is just as confusing: the hypostatic union. A parishioner in my progressive mainline church scolded me once for using this term. He said that such words belong strictly in the seminary and in the ancient world. I’m sure many progressives would agree. After all, haven’t we progressed beyond these ancient and mythical formulas? But I think progressives need to reclaim such words. The immigration crisis is a prime example why.
The hypostatic union refers to a mystery: the difference and unity between Jesus and the Father. The difference between the divine and the human coexisted within Jesus. There was enough room in Jesus for the divine and the human to unite harmoniously in abundant love.
In the same mysterious way that Jesus and God coexisted in unity, Jesus and his fellow human beings coexist in unity. In his prayer, Jesus says that he is “in them.” There is enough room in each of us for the presence of Jesus. Jesus coexists within everyone, but Jesus constantly reminded his followers that he was particularly one with the weak, the marginalized, the hungry, the poor, the neglected, the stranger, the expelled, and the immigrant – in other words, the victims of human violence.
In fact, Jesus was an immigrant. Jesus prayed to his Father, “… that the world may know that you have sent me …”Jesus immigrated from the Father to the world. And what did we humans do to him? We told him that he wasn’t welcome. We expelled him as a victim of our own violence. By being expelled to the cross, Jesus identifies himself with all victims of violence. Jesus became an immigrant who was expelled from this world so that we might stop expelling immigrants.
Jesus is at the border of the United States and we are expelling him.
So, why do we keep expelling Jesus? Because we don’t actually believe in him. We don’t believe that in Jesus God is setting the world right by showing us that there is a divine unity of love that unites “us” and “them.” We actually think Jesus was wrong when he revealed that in God’s economy there is enough love and bread and fish and water and housing and money and food and healing and forgiveness and reconciliation for everyone.
We don’t believe in Jesus and we don’t trust his way of unity. Rather, we form unity by being against an “other.” We form artificial barriers between us and them, which allow us to claim that we are good and they are bad. These barriers are artificial because they can be anything: political, economic, racial, and national identities all provide barriers that we use to unite “us” against “them.”
Christians should know better. Rather than using differences to unite us against them, differences provide an opportunity to unite us with them by sharing in God’s economy of abundant love. But instead of believing in the economy Jesus taught, we believe in an economy of scarcity. We are constantly told that there is not enough for everyone, so we need to keep all we can for ourselves. Under the spell of scarcity, we are told that “they” are a threat to “us,” which means “we” need to kick “them” out.
But we know that Jesus is one with immigrants. So when Christian politicians demand that we send Jesus, who comes to us in immigrants, back to their countries plagued by violence, they show their utter lack of faith in Jesus. That’s not Christian. That’s anti-Christian. The Kingdom of God that Jesus preached is a political way of life that breaks down the barriers of hostility between “us” and “them.” In Jesus, differences become opportunities for us to love them as if we were one with them because in Jesus we are one with them. Jesus was fully within his Jewish tradition when he broke down these barriers. For example, if conservative Christians really believe that the Bible is “the inerrant Word of God,” then they would abide by the words of Leviticus:
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 a 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.
Biblical faith, like the hypostatic union, sets a trajectory that ultimately breaks down the national, racial, and economic barriers that separate “us” from “them.” It claims that there is enough room for all in God’s economy that cares for everyone, but especially for those we label “them.” Differences remain, but those differences should not to be used as justification for setting up barriers of oppression and scapegoating. Rather, those differences are opportunities to show God’s economy of love and hospitality for all people, but especially for those that Leviticus calls “the alien” among us.
The glory that the Father gave to Jesus, and that Jesus gives to us, is the glory of uniting love. It’s the glory that embraces and makes room for the “other” – in this case, the immigrant other – and makes us one.
The good news is that it’s not too late to change. We can repent. We can change our hearts and minds so that we following Jesus in breaking down the barriers between “us” and “them.” We can embrace our differences and become one with God and our fellow human beings. We can join in God’s economy of abundant love and set things right by healing the world and trusting that there is enough room, enough wealth, enough food, and enough housing for “us” and for “them.”
Jesus is at the border. He is “in them.” How will we respond to his presence among us?
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.