The texts for this next week include citations from Jeremiah and Luke. I want to pull from those writings two ideas that seem to be well-connected in our world today.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7)
As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
In the Luke citation we hear the story of ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. In the end only the Samaritan returns to offer thanks to Jesus. He is told to rise and go for your faith has made you well.
Jesus seems to have a space for outsiders. This story and the woman at the well come to mind quickly. They surely were not wearing name tags; but Jesus seems to recognize those who might be foreigners. The Samaritan man in this Luke 17 story is told to go and give thanks and praise to God.
From the Jeremiah text we hear of how the diaspora of Israel should live in foreign lands.
Let’s play with this a bit and turn a few things around. Could this have also been taken as instruction for how Israel should greet an immigrant in their lands?
To play with this a bit further, what does this say to us today. Clearly, we can find the instruction for how we should live in a foreign land. But what about the person who comes into our land? The text says nothing specific for us, but it is still instructional for us and the immigrant.
Vs. 7 is particularly telling: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.
It is saying to the person, for whatever reason of displacement, be a productive part of that society, to assimilate. There is no instruction for the far side for the immigrant. They are not told how long they might be there but that does not seem to be important to the prophet.
I’m pretty sure that a person from Central America who is driven to come here is not going to be reciting from memory a text from one of the prophets; but the message is given to the new person in our midst, just as much as it might be to us.
We are told to live among the land in which you are located. But what if we are not the property holder? What if we are the immigrant trying to live inside of the voice of the prophet Jeremiah. We and they are told to live into the culture and prosper so that the host may prosper.
We would need to look elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke for how to treat various people but it all boils down to be polite, take care of them.
What should we think of immigrants arriving at our southern borders and being lured onto a plane and surreptitiously to a place that is even less known to them and more culturally apart from who they might be.
Fortunately, it appears that the people of Massachusetts acted appropriately. In looking over our history of people arriving in this country, we have benefitted far more from immigrant people’s presence with us than having gone without.
To return to the Luke text and the response by Jesus, let’s look one last time at what he does not say. “You are a foreigner; you have misused my healing and blessing.” He does not withdraw the healing. He only instructs the man to give praise where praise is due.
Jesus is curiously responsive to foreigners, to outsiders, those cast aside by local culture.
Why is it so easy for us to see the open arms of Jesus for ourselves, and overlook that his welcome is given to all? Are we not called to have the same attitude of acceptance demonstrated by Jesus?
It would seem to me that we should give thanks to God for those who are placed here with us and see them as gifts from God for a better world.
Good and gracious God, help us to greet the foreigner as you would, with open and accepting arms. Help us to work together for the advancement of your Kingdom. Amen.