The Immigrant: Our Neighbor

Deellllll.jpg Rondell Treviño, Founder, Memphis immigration Project

One of the greatest things we can do is ask questions—asking questions is the simplest most effective ways of learning. Asking questions enables us to gain deep insight, develop more innovative solutions, and to arrive at better decision-making. Children learn by asking questions, students learn by asking questions, new recruits learn by asking questions, innovators understand client needs by asking questions. It’s been said that the world’s brightest thinkers and scientists never stop asking questions in their lifetime. For example, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, once said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), there are three important questions the parable presents that we as Christians must ask ourselves in order to rightly understand what it means to love God and love our Immigrant neighbor.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem, and in this Parable of the Good Samaritan we see a questioning Lawyer trying to test Jesus. This lawyer is an expert in Jewish religious law—he is a theologian and scholar, and his goal is to trick and trap Jesus in order to discredit Him. In an attempt to do this, the Lawyer asks the first question in the parable in Luke 10:25 saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Even though He tries to trick, trap, and test Jesus, this question that he asks is one of the most important questions anyone can ask in their life. This lawyer understands that there will be life after death on this Earth. We, too, must understand that there will be eternal life after death as well, and we too must ask this question ourselves because there’s only two places after death—eternal punishment in Hell under the wrath of God or eternal life in Heaven with Jesus. You see, there’s a problem with the question asked by the lawyer because he asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We must understand that no one can do anything on their own merit to inherit eternal life—nothing we do can give us eternal life in Heaven. There’s nothing we can do to live up to the righteous standards of a Holy God.

This is hard to believe as Christians because when we read Jesus’ response to the Lawyer’s question it says in Luke 10:26-28, “26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” In other words, it sounds like Jesus is stating that we can save ourselves by our own works if we love God with all our heart and love our neighbor. However, this is not what Jesus is trying to say because again, none of us can save ourselves. I firmly believe Jesus is trying help this lawyer see that he’s dead spiritually and that he can’t fully love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind.

We can’t either. Nothing we do can give us eternal life in Heaven—we are too broken and sinful. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. Not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Nothing we do through our works will make us righteous before God and obtain eternal life. We are, in fact, beneficiaries of God’s grace when He made us alive spiritually through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit when we were dead in our sin.

This is good news because we would be miserable if we had to do things in order to earn eternal life. This reminds me of the cartoon Tom and Jerry. This cartoon is a classic, and its premise is centered around a rivalry between Tom, the cat, and Jerry, the mouse. Every episode Tom attempts to catch Jerry, and at rare times tries to eat him. However, Jerry somehow always gets away, which leaves Tom, each episode, not being able to truly catch Jerry. In all of the episodes, no matter what Tom does, he cannot catch Jerry. This is a picture of us when we attempt on our own to inherit eternal life—we’re like Tom attempting every day to do enough good works in order to catch Jerry, who represents eternal life—and when we attempt to catch eternal life through our works, we are eventually left empty handed because Eternal Life always gets away. Jesus died on the cross for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to work for eternal life and God’s love, but rather live and obey God from knowing that we already have eternal life and are already loved by God through Jesus Christ.

What does this have to do with the Immigrant? Everything because in order to rightly love the Immigrant, documented and undocumented, we must first love God by understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Who is my neighbor?

After Jesus compels the lawyer to give the answer to his own question in Luke 10:26-28, what should have occurred was repentance, but instead, he tries to justify himself by asking in Luke 10:29, “Who is my neighbor?” You see, the lawyer knew he hadn’t loved God the way he should, but somehow thought he could avoid this by thinking he loved his neighbor as he should.

What’s interesting is the answer to the question he’s asking was just answered by him in Luke 10:27 when he said, “And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The second part of Luke 10:27, “Your neighbor as yourself” is referenced from Leviticus 19:18 which says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” In other words, the lawyer believed that loving his neighbor only included his own people–those who only look, act, and think like he did. Those who are only within his own race, political party, zip code, and economic class. However, what he forgot was that Leviticus 19 doesn’t end with verse 18, but ends with verse 34. In this chapter, God tells this lawyer and us, who our neighbor truly is. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

In other words, when Jesus compels this lawyer to say “love your neighbor as yourself.” He is compelling him to understand that his neighbor is the Immigrant, documented and undocumented. 

But the lawyer doesn’t get it. He only thinks his neighbor is someone who looks, acts, and thinks like him. Why is this? It’s not only because he was an unbeliever, but because he read scripture selectively. He only read what he wanted to believe and practice in his life and used the Bible as a buffet like Cicis Pizza, choosing only what he wanted to believe. However, this was wrong because, for the Christian, Scripture should never be read selectively, but rather entirely. When we read the command, “Love your neighbor yourself.”, we must make sure we don’t read it selectively or we will only fit in those we deem as our neighbor—and usually, that circle is filled with people who only look, think, and act like us while leaving out the Immigrant, documented and undocumented.

Although the Lawyer doesn’t get who his neighbor is, Jesus being patient and loving, answers the question “Who is my neighbor?” with the story of the Good Samaritan in order to help the lawyer understand who his neighbor is. The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 is about a man who was beaten and robbed by thieves and was left half dead on the road. After a while, a priest walked down the road, saw the beaten man and passed by him on the other side. And then a Levite came walking down the road, saw the beaten man and also walked passed him on the other side. Finally, a Samaritan was walking by the beaten man, had compassion and took care of the beaten man by cleaning his wounds, carrying him on his animal, and paying money for him to stay in an Inn.

The Priest sees this beaten man first, and decides to walk on the other side of the road! This Priest was constituted as someone from a prestigious and elite class! And in those days, there were three ethnic and class markers that distinguished “them from us.—they are language, dress, and accent. However, this could not be determined because the beaten man on the road was unconscious and naked. Therefore, possible reasons as to why the Priest didn’t help the man could have been because of the dangerous Jericho road. This road was built in such a way that it was easy for thieves to come out from the trees and bushes, and rob someone. A second reason why the Priest didn’t help the beaten man was because he could have been Egyptian, Syrian, or Greek—in other words, someone from a different ethnicity, and he wasn’t responsible under the law to do so. Nevertheless, the Priest cared more about himself, his safety, and agenda than the beaten man, and didn’t help him.

Following the Priest on the road is a Levite, who scholars say was an assistant to a Priest—maybe even one to the Priest who went before him. Therefore, since the Priest walked by the beaten man on the other side of the road, so did the Levite. In other words, he followed the Priest’s example. There’s an important lesson here: the way we act toward our Immigrant neighbor, documented and undocumented—is being watched by those who we disciple and more than likely will be how they will act towards Immigrants in the future. Another reason why the Levite could have walked passed the beaten man on the other side of the road because he didn’t want to risk being beaten and robbed by thieves as well. Nevertheless, the Levite cared more about himself, his safety, and agenda than the beaten man, and didn’t help him.

Finally, following the Priest and Levite is the Samaritan who was walking by the beaten man, had compassion and took care of the beaten man by cleaning his wounds, carrying him on his own animal, and paying money for him to stay in an Inn. He went out of his way to love this beaten man who was in desperate need. This part of the Parable puts the Lawyer in shock because if you didn’t know, Jews hated Samaritans because they were half-breeds—half Jew and half Gentile. They also had a different religion. In essence, they were Immigrants in their own way within society. Therefore, the Jewish lawyer hated that the Samaritan was the one who showed compassion to the beaten man. Many scholars say he’s in shock and anger because, again, he only thinks Jews love Jews, Gentiles love Gentiles, and Samaritans love Samaritans. But Jesus is trying to help the Lawyer understand that this is the wrong way of believing and living. He must not act like the Priest and Levite, but instead must follow the example of the Samaritan, and love his Immigrant neighbor who is different than him.

The Samaritan could have chosen not to love the beaten man because of their differences, but instead, he chose to love him like Christ would.

In fact, the Samaritan is a picture of Jesus in this parable. Just like the Samaritan, Jesus Himself saw you and me when we were dead in our trespasses and sins on the side of the road in desperate need spiritually, and He chose to come to us by giving up His life so that we could repent and put our faith in Him.

Just like the Samaritan, we are called to do the exact same thing as well toward Immigrants, documented and undocumented. We must love our Immigrant neighbor regardless of their documentation, ethnicity, and education status. There are 50 plus million Immigrants in the United States, 11 million of which are undocumented, and 200,000 plus live in Tennessee. Many of these Immigrants are physically and spiritually beaten just like the beaten man in our passage who need a loving neighbor to love and care for them. There are 800,000 plus young Immigrants Dreamers who came to the United States as young babies and children without any choice in the matter and their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program status will be rescinded in March 2018. In other words, they are losing protection from the program for crimes they didn’t commit. Thousands are beaten down spiritually and physically and need the Church—a people on mission community to stand up and love them. However, in all honesty, many Christians pass by on the other side of the road like the Priest and Levite.

We do have a choice at the end of the day either walk pass Immigrants, documented and undocumented like the Priest and Levite or show compassion and love them like the Samaritan.

Friends, true love cares for all Immigrants even when they’re not like you—and this must transcend all boundaries such as race, nationality, religion, and economic or educational status.

What must I do to Love my Immigrant Neighbor?

Finally, there’s a third question that the passage presents, and that is, “What must I do to love my Immigrant neighbor?” Knowing that we are called to love our Immigrant neighbor who is different than us, we must then understand what we must do to love our Immigrant neighbor. The Samaritan in the story shows us three ways we must do to love our neighbor.

Walk Across the Street. The Samaritan was walking down the Jericho road, saw the beaten, had compassion, and walked across the street to take care of him. The neighborhood and city you and I live in and the places we go to is God’s way of saying “Walk across the street and love your Immigrant neighbor!” There are hundreds and even thousands of Immigrants in our cities who are spiritually and physically beaten like the man in our passage who need a loving neighbor to encourage them, sit down and talk, and who need the Gospel. But not only this, Immigrants, especially DACA recipients need a loving neighbor who is willing to courageously advocate on their behalf legislatively. All we have to do is walk across the street or drive across the city to do so.

Risk. The Jericho Road was extremely dangerous and was a robbing buffet for thieves. It was extremely dangerous for the Samaritan to stop and help this man because of what could happen to him. And like any human being, this Samaritan was probably fearful of the danger that was at hand and because he was of a different ethnicity and religion. However, his compassion for this man outweighed his fear. Likewise, our compassion must outweigh our fear of what can happen and our fear of the other just because they may be different. The Samaritan was also willing to risk his entire agenda planned for that day. The Samaritan didn’t wake up knowing this was going to happen and had an agenda anyone else but laid all that aside to love the beaten man. Loving our Immigrant neighbor means being willing to interrupt our agenda for the day in order to do so.

Hospitality. This word hospitality is a common theme in scripture, and its original meaning in Greek means love for the stranger. In other words, Biblical hospitality means one who loves strangers and Immigrants like you would your own relative. This is what the Samaritan does because the beaten man is a stranger and Immigrant to him, yet the Samaritan shows hospitality to him by using all of his available resources—oil, wine, money, riding animal, and energy for this man. He gets his hands dirty and filled with blood—literally. Friends, loving our Immigrant neighbor means showing hospitality to them like we would to our closest relative—and sometimes that means using all of our resources to do so.


Memphis immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a biblical perspective.

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