Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Loving your (refugee) neighbour as yourself.



Traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount near the Sea of Galilee ~ June 2012

When an expert in the law tested Jesus by asking him which is the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered by quoting part of the Shema of Judaism, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37; cf. Deut 6:5) and then added Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (22:39).[1] Matthew emphasises that the commandment to love God with one’s whole being is distinct but inseparable from the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself; together they sum up all the Law and the Prophets and both are necessary. Even though in Matthew's Gospel Jesus is not directly asked, “Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29) we are not left with the option of so narrowly defining our neighbour that we justify avoiding the responsibility of loving strangers who may be immigrants and refugees belonging to a different culture, ethnicity, religion, or social class.[2]

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly explained whom one is to love, “Love your neighbour” (Matt 5:43; cf. Lev 19:18), and this command was not limited to fellow Jews (or for Matthew's original audience and for us today, fellow Christians) but extended to actively loving even one’s enemies (Matt 5:44; cf. Exod 23:4-5) who were probably understood as enemies in the national sense of being outsiders to Israel, i.e. Gentiles (cf. 5:47).[3] According to Jesus, the neighbour we are commanded to love includes any and every human being (from family members through to those who hate us), and therefore loving the Creator God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37) would naturally require Christians to love our fellow human beings as ourselves since, like each of us, these human beings all have value and dignity as creatures of God (cf. Matt 19:4).[4]

Any discussion about immigration and refugees in the twenty-first century must begin with the acknowledgement that this mass movement of people across borders concerns human beings.[5] Oppressive treatment of human beings violates the positive respect and love due them as God’s creatures and our neighbours.[6]They should be treated in ways that show care and concern, rather than disdain and disregard, for their continued existence as the beings they are”.[7]


[1] Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Brewster: Paraclete, 2004), 3, 8. 
[2] Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 91. In Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan it is revealed that one’s neighbour might be someone with serious needs from a different and even disliked culture (Luke 10:25-37). 
[3] Whether Matthew’s Gospel was written before or after the Judean revolt in 70 AD, his expected audience had suffered at the hands of the Gentiles and would have had good reason to hate them. Craig S. Keener, "Matthew’s Missiology: Making Disciples of the Nations (Matthew 28:19-20)", AJPS 12.1 (2009), 10; Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 203; Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, NAC Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 158, 159. 
[4] Kathryn Tanner, The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), 166. 
[5] M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 65. 
[6] Tanner, 164, 166. 
[7] Tanner, 176-177.

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