From the opening chapter of Genesis, “migration” is a continuous thread in the biblical narrative. So is the importance of caring for “the stranger and sojourner” – migrants, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
The Bible opens with God’s Spirit migrating over the face of the waters. Soon God creates humankind, male and female, in God’s image, bringing us to life with God’s own breath. All that God created was good! Even after we disobeyed God and were exiled from the Garden of Eden, God clothed us and stayed close to us – an act of loving care that was God’s first lesson in caring for the uprooted.
In the Hebrew Bible, our matriarchs and patriarchs migrated, sought asylum, were trafficked, became refugees, and were undocumented. We are reminded repeatedly that we are to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger because we were once strangers in the land. Biblical hospitality welcomes the stranger and teaches that God wants us to care for the other.
In the New Testament, Jesus became a refugee when his family fled Herod’s wrath and sought asylum in Egypt. Born to serve God and save us, his life depended on the hospitality of the Egyptians.
Perhaps Jesus not only told the parable, but also was the stranger helped by the Good Samaritan? Jesus embraced the marginalized; included women in his inner circle; went to the other; affirmed day laborers; loved unconditionally; opened his table to all.
After his resurrection, he appeared as a stranger and sent his disciples to spread the gospel. After his ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to travel with each us. Jesus taught that the path to eternal life calls for care of the hungry, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and the stranger. (Matthew 25: 31-40.) We are to show everyone love and hospitality.
“Whatever you do for these, you do for me,” he said. That is the basis for radical welcome – our responses to each other are our responses to God.
Christ’s radical welcome has room for the refugee, the asylum seeker, the migrant and the immigrant – whether documented or undocumented. Does ours? If so, how do we offer that radical welcome? We do so when we remember that to the other, we are the stranger – then meet each other as friends and fellow travelers through life.
The CWS Immigration and Refugee Program has welcomed refugees to the United States for 66 years, beginning with displaced survivors of World War II. Since then, we have helped resettle survivors of other wars, persecutions and injustices – extending care to more than 500,000 refugees and 300,000 Cuban and Haitian entrants.
That work continues, as do our efforts and advocacy for fairness, compassion and care for all immigrants, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other forcibly displaced persons in the United States and around the world.
As we pray and work for an end to the violence and injustices that force displacement, we also strive to practice radical hospitality toward refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, and migrants, welcoming them to our land, places of worship, and homes. We remember to “welcome strangers, for thereby some have welcomed angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 3.
The Rev. Dr. Joan M. Maruskin is National Program Director, CWS Religious Services Program, and an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.