Every once in a while I get an “aha” moment and I can’t turn my mind off, thus preventing me from a good night’s sleep. Last night’s “aha” moment came as I was reflecting on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. The tendency of faith leaders advocating for a compassionate approach to illegal immigrants is to appeal to the numerous “be kind to strangers” texts in the Hebrew Scriptures. The problem with this approach is that it elicits a universal response from the other side, “Yes, but those were legal immigrants. I’m talking about illegal immigrants. Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers, they shouldn’t have any rights. And if you think they should, you’re just another godless liberal seeking to undermine the moral fabric of America….etc…etc..” It occurred to me that one of the most famous and beloved women in the entire Bible was an illegal immigrant. Her name was Ruth.
I’m not making this up. Deuteronomy 23:3 is clear as mud, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever.” If you’re still not convinced that descendants of Moab were ordered to be excluded from the congregation of Israel, take a look at verse 6, which says, “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.” With this in mind, isn’t it strange that the hero in the story of Ruth is Boaz, a man that showed kindness to a Moabite woman? We look at the story today and know intuitively that Boaz was a hero, but we often forget that Boaz could have very well been considered a villain to the religious leaders of his day. After all, they might have said, the law forbids people like Ruth from being included in Israeli society–and they would have been right.
Kind of strange isn’t it? God writes a law and then commends people for breaking it? I can think of two other examples where this strange paradox occurs. One example is Joseph, the husband of Mary. Once Joseph discovered that his wife was pregnant with an illegitimate child, the Law of Moses said that Mary should have been stoned (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Isn’t it a little odd then that the Holy Spirit, speaking through Matthew, calls Joseph a “just man” because He wanted to put her away secretly? (Matthew 1:19) Or how about when Jesus commended David for doing what was unlawful–His word, not mine–on the Sabbath because of a pressing human need? (Mark 2:25-26)
Yes, we’re supposed to respect the law, and I’m not saying that illegal immigrants are right to break into the United States illegally (I happen to believe that nations do have a right to protect their borders); but there comes a time when we have to ask the question of how much should “respect for the law” determine a Christian’s response to those that suffer from economic forces beyond their control? Let’s not forget that it was because of famine and death (read: economic hardship) that compelled Ruth to migrate with her mother in law Naomi. The same story could be told millions of times over today. If God commended people for breaking His laws because of compassion for their fellow human beings, what might He think of people today that challenge man-made laws for reasons of human compassion? Think about it.