Jesus of Nazareth: The “Illegal Immigrant”

There are several ways that the history of Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed to be the Christ by his followers for more than two millennia after her birth, can be understood to qualify as what is commonly referred to as an “illegal immigrant” (a rather politically insensitive term only made worse by the abbreviated “illegals” popularly found in the rhetoric of recent political debates). Nevertheless, whether one more appropriately describes such people primarily by way of their immigration status (“undocumented”) or in relationship to the laws that govern such statuses (“illegal”), the truth is that Jesus Christ would, had he arrived in the United States in recent weeks or months instead of Palestine some two thousand years earlier (pace Mormons), be classified as an “illegal immigrant” — and I think he would have to be considered such by his own admittance.

Concerning the status of the Son of God’s (or Son of Man, depending on which Gospel and translation we are considering) immigration status, we should begin with the fact that, from the beginning, Jesus did not fit comfortably in his own surroundings.

He was not a Roman Citizen, as St. Paul was, but instead was only able to claim his membership in the community of Israel as a faithful Jew as opposed to citizenship in the empire or any other state. Furthermore, following his birth, Jesus family fled from their homeland into a foreign country, crossing the border into Egypt, where the Holy Family stayed for some time for fear of what was in store at home. Thank God nobody was promoting a policy of “self-deportation” in Egypt during the murder of innocents, otherwise Mary and Joseph might have had to return “home” and suffer the consequences of coming into Egypt “illegally.”

Oh, and then there’s the little recognized fact that Jesus, if we want to take our faith seriously, was a Divine “anchor baby.”

Perhaps one way to look at the Incarnation from a practical perspective is to talk about how God entered the world as a baby without the proper documentation or having pursued the right channels. Instead, God just popped into the scene as a human being and took full advantage of the benefits (and downsides) to being a human being, acting as it were as a “citizen” of this community of human beings and the whole of creation. What did Jesus do to earn that right? Mary simply had him so that he could get away with what he really wanted from the beginning — becoming one like us.

Then there is the grown-up Jesus and the abundance of self-proclamations that reveal how this undocumented God-man rightly knew he didn’t belong in the land of his ministry.

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9″58/Matt 8:20).

“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)

“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?… whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven” (Matt 12: 47-50)

The list can go on and on, but you get the point. How pietistically we repeat these passages from the Gospels in Church and in our own study or prayer, yet we are so willing to overlook the fact that Jesus was a stranger in a very strange land. He was unwelcome. He was marginalized.

Perhaps some reflection on how God relates more easily, it would certainly seem, with the so-called “illegal immigrant” than with the persecutors of those who transcend arbitrary borders, might summon in us a sense of the justice that God calls for in the way we treat the least among us.

After all, Jesus’s warning to us in the famous judgement account in Matthew 25 does not qualify the feeding, clothing, visiting, and caring for of the least among us with the caveat, “that is, as long as those least brothers and sisters in your midst arrived in your nation-state through the proper channels and with the proper documents.” No, there is none of that to be found.

Jesus understands what its like to be viewed as an “illegal immigrant,” but I’m not sure he understands how those who so despise the undocumented get off in their self-righteous ways.

Photo: Stock

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