For over two weeks now, Elvira Arellano, has taken shelter in a United Methodist Church in Chicago. Arellano sought sanctuary in the church when she learned that Federal officials planned to deport her back to Mexico. She has lived illegally in the United States for over seven years.
Reactions to her and the church’s actions have covered the spectrum from outrage to outright support. But my favorite comment came from a letter to the editor in the Anniston Star.
Opposing the idea that a church might be used to harbor an illegal immigrant, the writer concluded, “I am disappointed with the church. If that church honored Jesus, they would throw the woman out on her butt. Illegal immigration is not about helping the poor or needy, it’s about obeying the rules and respecting authority.”
In other words, at least in the mind of one writer, Jesus is our role model for “obeying rules and respecting authority.” Really?
Allow me to cite just a few of the ways that Jesus disobeyed the rules and disrespected authority in his day.
It was against the rules to have any contact with a leper. We know Jesus did it at least twice.
It was against the rules to perform an act of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus broke this rule several times, and at least once he did it in church–as if to make a point.
It was against the rules for a man to speak to a woman in public. Jesus did this repeatedly and even had women among the disciples who followed him.
It was against the rules to have any contact with tax collectors. These folks were viewed as traitors and collaborators with the Romans. It was also against the rules to have contact with sinners. Jesus went to a party that included both groups.
It was against rules to consort with Gentiles, and especially Roman soldiers. Jesus not only broke this rule but he even healed the servant of a Roman officer.
It’s worth noting that the rules Jesus broke most often were the ones that oppressed powerless people.
The bottom line here is if you are looking to Jesus as your role model for keeping the rules and laws of any given society, you clearly have not read the New Testament.
Of course, having said all that, we must realize that there are penalties for breaking the rules. The church in Chicago should not expect to be exempt from legal action, or from the scorn of society. After all, Jesus didn’t exactly get the red carpet treatment from the authorities of his day.
But what this church does not have to endure is any criticism that they are somehow not being faithful to Jesus. You can check this for yourself, but I am quite sure that Jesus never said that we are called to care only for the least of these who are legally in our midst. And while we are at it, he also said nothing about caring only for the deserving poor, or only the innocent in prison, or only those who are sick through no fault of their own.
And for all those who champion the idea that America is a Christian nation, what does it mean if it turns out that we have laws and rules in our society that Jesus would most certainly break if he was with us now. And I wonder what we would do to him when he did it.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, serves as pastor of the Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. He can be contacted through his Web site: www.jimevanscolumn.com.