A quick overview of the story of God makes it clear that the margins are at the center of his love and concern. When I say this, there is often strong reaction by those of us who are wealthy and in power (which includes the majority of us who live in the USA), to the idea that God could have some type of exclusive concern for one group of people over another. But, remember that God reveals himself to us as Father.
As a parent of three children, when one of my kids was in crisis or suffering, it was not at all difficult for me to leave the other two children on their own for a time while I gave special attention to my sick or suffering child. This special love and concern does not exclude my other children from my absolute love, but it does give priority to my ailing child. It seems, Jesus consistently gives high priority to those who are alienated and without much hope.
The fact that Jesus entered the world as a Galilean Jew is significant. God does not incarnate himself among the religious and political elite, but comes into the world on the periphery of Roman and Jewish existence. He is conceived in the womb of a young woman, Mary who is not yet married, which most likely created much commotion in the village of Nazareth where she and her fiancé resided. Like many urban young people today, they had to endure that scandal, and to make life even more difficult, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee their hometown with their son to a neighboring nation as immigrants to escape persecution and genocide. And, like most immigrants, they could not find adequate housing in their time of transition and crisis.
Even a casual reading of Jesus's ministry in the Gospels reveals a constant preoccupation with those pushed aside by the mainstream. The widow, the lame, the outsider, the poor and the rejected seem to always be the focal point of his encounters and ministry activity. When he does minister to the rich and to the powerful, like Zacchaeus, he seems to point them towards a redemptive opportunity that includes making things right with the poor as an expression of true repentance.
His teaching and parables also put great emphasis on a right understanding of the Kingdom in relationship to those who are on the margins of society. When you throw a party Jesus said, do not do it like the majority of people in society who only invite those who will return the favor. Instead when you organize and plan a lavish banquet, invite the outsider, the stranger, the weak, the broken and the scandalously sinful who do not normally get invited to such affairs. The Kingdom of God is like that kind of party, Jesus says.
When describing the greatest commandment of all, loving God and loving our neighbor, He tells the story of a man beaten and broken by the side of the road who is neglected by the religious folks, but who is shown love, kindness and mercy by an outsider who is the one that demonstrates what it really means to love our neighbor. For Jesus, walking by and ignoring a needy individual is not an option for anyone who claims to be in relationship with His Father.
In Matthew 25, Jesus makes a radical connection between our encounters and love for the poor, the naked, the hungry, and the stranger, and to himself. The statement that He makes, that when we minister to these neglected individuals, we in fact minister to Jesus himself is scandalous and mind blowing for those of us who might entertain the notion that making the economically poor and those who are marginalized by society an exaggeration of Scripture's call to prioritize the poor.
As we come to the passion work of Christ, maybe the most radical identification of God with the marginalized and humiliated, is where his redemptive work on the cross takes place. The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was crucified outside the city gates of Jerusalem, in a place called Golgotha, the place where criminals and thieves were executed for their crimes.
So, Jesus lays down his sinless life for the redemption of the entire world in this despised place on the margins of both religious and political power and respectability. The significance of this is startling when we consider how Jesus not only lays down His life but His reputation. God allows his only begotten Son to be murdered and crucified alongside criminals, so that everyone in the human race would understand that no one is beyond redemption, or beyond inclusion in his Kingdom.
When I reflect on the last hours of Jesus' life before his crucifixion, what stands out is the way he was insulted and mocked by the crowds. The Bible says that they hurled all sorts of terrible insults at him. (Luke 22:65 NLT) This verbal abuse is a significant way that the suffering of Jesus is connected to our undocumented neighbors.
When I think of the myriad of insults that I have heard in the last ten years working to lift up the needs of the undocumented and to make changes in our broken immigration laws, I have been both shocked and appalled at the insults levied against these men, women and children who, yes have broken laws to be in this country, but, who have also been hired, used and often abused by employers and our economic system in need of cheap labor. Because of their vulnerable status, it has become common to scapegoat and hurl insults at them without regard to the fact that they are human beings created in the image of God. What has been most shocking is when these types of insults have been made by those claiming to be followers of Christ.
In Jesus' false conviction, beating, suffering, enduring of all kinds insults, and in His brutal death, everyone would see that His forgiving grace is for all, and that redemption is offered to all, regardless of the severity of our past trespasses or sinfulness.
So, when we speak about God's love for the stranger, it is not a conversation that is based on any one particular verse pulled randomly from an ancient text, but a striking truth that is rooted in the entire revelation of God's salvific activity that culminates on the cross. This indeed is Good News to the poor, and to all believers redeemed by the radical love of Jesus.
Here is the video of Noel's lecture, which is a longer version of the above blog: