On Aug. 22 a prayer vigil showing solidarity for Elvira Arellano, and all of the other families in risk of separation due to our inhumane immigration system, was held in Denver.

On Aug. 22 a prayer vigil showing solidarity for Elvira Arellano, and all of the other families in risk of separation due to our inhumane immigration system, was held in Denver.

As an undocumented immigrant mother facing deportation for the past year, Elvira Arellano had been given sanctuary by one of Chicago’s Methodist congregations. She had traveled to Los Angeles with community and faith leaders from Chicago as part of a nationwide advocacy campaign calling for humane immigration policies and an end to immigration raids in worksites and homes across the country.

She was arrested on Monday following a presentation in Los Angeles and deported later that day, leaving behind her 8-year-old citizen son. She has shown tremendous dignity and courage and has called on the immigrant rights community to continue the struggle for a fair and humane immigration system. Below are a few words I gave during the prayer vigil:

The beloved apostle John, while exiled on the island of Patmos, writes a letter to the Christian church of Laodicea. He accuses the church of being neither cold nor hot. Because they are lukewarm, God will spit them out.

The church of Laodicea says to itself, “I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want.” Yet God says they fail to realize just how wretchedly and pitiably poor they have become, blind and naked.

Nevertheless, while in the midst of their sin, God sends Laodicea a redeemer. “Look,” says our Lord, “I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share their meal.”

Who is this one we call Lord standing at the door of our churches asking to be let in? Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the very least of these, we do unto him. It is the undocumented alien knocking at our church’s door, the very least among us, who is Jesus in the here and now. The question we must therefore ask is if we will let him in?

Latino/as, even though they have lived for hundreds of years on the land that would eventually become the United States, are seen as aliens. Many find themselves in the U.S. because of the quasi-religious ideology of Manifest Destiny, when the United States conquered foreign lands, as in the case of northern Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Others are here as a result of gunboat diplomacy, as in the case of people from Central America and the Caribbean. Territorial invasions and the exploitation of the natural resources by U.S. corporations led to conditions that eventually fostered their immigration to the imperial center.

We find ourselves refugees and aliens in the country responsible for us being here. Even our descendants are not spared the indignation of being seen as foreigners, regardless of how many generations have inhabited the land. Our Latino/a physical features or Hispanic surnames make us a race that doesn’t belong.

Yet Jesus’ approach to the alien is quite different. In fact, Jesus ties salvation to how we treat aliens.

On the Day of Judgment, as recorded by Matthew, all will be separated as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the sheep on his right Jesus will say “Come, you who are blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was …. an alien and you took me in.”

But to the goats on his left Jesus will say, “Go away from me, cursed ones, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was … an alien and you did not take me in” (25:31-46).

For Jesus, the difference between the saved and the damned is not what doctrine they professed, what church they belonged to, or what profession of faith they proclaimed. The difference between sheep and goats is what they did, or did not do, with the aliens within their midst.

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Order Miguel De La Torre’s book Reading the Bible from the Margins now from Amazon.com

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