Who Are Our People?

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
Luke 10:29

From Justin Ashworth, a candidate in the Duke Divinity School ThD program. Justin is in the process of finishing a dissertation devoted to a theological engagement with U.S. immigration policy, drawing on the Merciful Samaritan parable in Luke 10 (right: painting by Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1907), which challenges followers of Jesus to ask the vital question in immigration debates: “Who are our people?” This is the conclusion from a presentation he gave to a class last week:

…the calling of gentiles to follow Jesus draws us into a life together with people we did not choose. It requires that we deny any notion of a permanently stable identity: we follow the God of the living who is on the move in the world. There may be times for staying put, but the Christian life is fundamentally one of movement towards Jesus and therefore towards the people he is gathering around himself. This recognition requires that we cultivate a posture of openness toward the Spirit of Jesus Christ who blows where the Spirit wills.

Jew-gentile communion will thus be marked by the refusal to boast in human-made identities like citizenship status or wealth or national security; and it will be marked by an openness to people who are different from us—not because difference is inherently good but because this is the direction of God’s dealings with creation. This is God’s destiny for the world in Jesus Christ.

It may be, then, that the Merciful Samaritan tells us less what we should do and more who we belong with and how we belong with them. In Jesus Christ, Jews and gentiles (and Samaritans) belong with each other and with the victims of the world. Christians must be marked by a humility that opposes self-aggrandizement and an openness that opposes self-enclosure. The key question we must ask of our communities is not, what will become of our nation if certain people are allowed to enter? but rather, who will become our people by the movement of the Spirit of Jesus Christ? Who will God make our neighbor, our people? Who will we allow into our lives? Whose burdens will we bear? Theologians may be able to offer a more interesting immigration ethic by beginning with this question rather than the unanswerable ones about security, economics and culture.

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