A Wrinkle in the Sheet of Immigration

Fitted Sheets

Did you know that Ruth, the lady whose story is told in a book in the Hebrew Scriptures that bears her name, was an illegal immigrant?

How does that fact affect your view of the immigration issue that heats up our country?

I talked about Ruth in my teaching last Sunday in our series “What Would Jesus Say About…”. 

The issue about which we tuned our ears to Jesus was immigration.  Christians often agree with the many  “be kind to foreigners” verses in both the Hebrew Scripture and Christian Scripture, but they also often add this caveat: “Yes, but those were legal immigrants.  Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers they shouldn’t have any rights.”

Then, we read the story of Ruth.  And she throws a wrinkle in our position (Have you tried to fold a fitted sheet?).   People think they have a Biblically wrinkle-free position on immigration until they read the story of Ruth.  

Ruth was an illegal immigrant.  She’s from Moab.  One of those countries.   Check out Israel’s policy toward immigrants from Moab:  

“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” (Deuteronomy 23:3).

“Forever”  is a long time.  

Still not convinced that Moabites were excluded…that Moabites were to be kept out? 

Look at Deuteronomy 23:6: “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”  

There’s that word “forever” again.  

The Hebrew of this verse is colorful.  Check out these different translations:

Never pursue their welfare or prosperity – CSB

Never promote their welfare or prosperity – NRSV

Never seek a treaty of friendship with them – NIV

Never seek their peace or their prosperity- NASB

Don’t wish for their peace or success – NCV

Don’t be concerned with their health and well-being – CEB

 Ok.  I get it.  The message is clear.  Don’t give a hand to help the Moabite and Ammonite.  They’re not good people. 

Here’s the wrinkle.  Boaz, the hero of the story, flagrantly disobeyed Moses’ law.  He showed Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi, kindness, provided food for them, pursued their welfare, helped them succeed.  And friendship?  

Oh, Boaz went way beyond friendship and got intimate with Ruth.  

Follow that intimacy down the family tree and we arrive at Jesus – Jesus, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).  Ruth and Boaz were great-grandparents of David.  Jesus was the “Son of David”, and David was the great-grandson of an illegal immigrant mother and a law-breaking father.  

Boaz, like his descendant, Jesus, chose love over law.  Kindness and compassion over keeping the rules.  

What would have happened had Boaz obeyed the law?  

He wouldn’t have been kind to Ruth.  He wouldn’t have provided care for and to them. 

He and Ruth would not have fallen in love.  They would not have had sex and conceived a child, a grandchild…and if you keep going, Jesus would not have been born.  

That was my point in the sermon.  Afterwards, a good, wise friend pointed out to me another way to look at it: If Boaz had kept the law, God could have found another way to bring Jesus to the world.  True. Then my friend said,  “But isn’t it cool that God chose to use an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us?”  Cool indeed. Thank you friend!

I get that nations have a responsibility to protect their borders.  I’m not campaigning for illegal immigration.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

* Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world.  As a follower of Christ, I am, foremost, a citizen of that kingdom. For me, that citizenship takes precedence over my U.S. citizenship.  I am to embrace and express the values of His kingdom – values of love and service to the least of these.  How can I live in the  kingdom of the U.S. and live by the principles of the kingdom of Heaven?

*What should be my motivation?  Respect for the law or love of people?  Let’s not forget that it was famine and death that compelled Ruth and Naomi to migrate to the land of Israel.  The same story can be told millions of times today.  Think about the words of an immigrant from Kenya, Warsan Shire,

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Maybe I should have more compassion for people in horrible situations?

So, if God broke the Mosaic law, or used a law breaker and an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us, lifting love and compassion over law-keeping, what might God think of people today who challenge the law for the cause of love?  Think about it.  

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Jesus Fought the Law and the Law Lost

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Headlines like the one above really irritate some people.  “How dare they pick and choose?!”  But be honest.  We all pick and choose.  Who among us obey all 613 commands of the Mosaic law?  That’s right.  Some people believe that the Law is just the Ten Commandments.  Actually, the Law of Moses contains 613 commandments covering everything from blood sacrifices to men’s haircuts to sewage disposal to charging interest on loans.

The New Testament seems to take a few steps further than the Supreme Court:

Romans 6:14: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 7:4: So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  

Galatians 2:19: For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.

Romans 7:6: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Galatians 3:24-45: So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian

Colossians 2:14: ...having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Hebrews 8:13: By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Hebrews 10:9:  He sets aside the first to establish the second.

Romans 10:4:  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Ephesians 2:14-15:  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances…

Not under law; died to the law; dying to what once bound us;  released from the law; no longer under a guardian; nailed to the cross; obsolete; set aside; Christ is the end of the law; abolishing the law.  Strong words.  Clear communication.

I can hear the objections: “But wait!  What about Matthew 5:17-19? Take that!  See, the law is still in effect.  We’re still supposed to follow it.”  Jesus said,  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished…”

Well, this is confusing.  Paul says Jesus abolished the law (Ephesians 2:15) and Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law!  What’s up?

Back it up.  Jesus did say the law would disappear when two things happened: 1. heaven and earth will disappear,  and, 2. everything is accomplished.   When those two things happen, the law is out of here! It’s gone. So long.  See ya later.  Gone like Roger Daltrey’s shirt.

#2 – Everything is accomplished –  At a key moment Jesus announced that everything was finished – at that moment. “It is finished.” John 19:30

#1 – Heaven and earth will disappear – Well, that obviously means a literal heaven and earth disappearing. Doesn’t it?  Maybe not.
If “heaven and earth” refers to a literal, physical heaven and earth, then, yep, the Law of Moses has not passed – it’s still alive and kicking.  But I believe that “heaven and earth” is a metaphor for political or national systems.  Take a look at these references:
Isaiah 1:1-2; Isaiah 24:3-6; Isaiah 34:3-5; Hebrews 12:26-28; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:32-33

In the last two references Jesus wasn’t speaking of a physical heaven and earth but of a system – a way of doing things – the Mosaic Covenant with its laws, sacrifices, priesthood, tabernacle (Hebrews  9:8-11).  Jesus was speaking of the fall of Jerusalem that would happen about 40 years later in A.D. 70 when God removed the things that could be shaken and in their place gave His people a Kingdom which can never be moved (Hebrews 12:18-28).

Luke 21:32-33 contains the same elements as Matthew 5:17-19 – the disappearance of heaven and earth and everything accomplished.

Jesus and Paul are not in conflict with one another.  Heaven and earth – the system under the Mosaic covenant disappeared bringing on the abolishment of the law!!!!

So, I guess we can just let ourselves go wild?!  God, as always, has this covered;
So Christ has truly set us free.  Now make sure you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law…For you have been called to live in freedom … but don’t use your freedom to satisfy your flesh.  Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love…So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide our lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your flesh craves (Galatians 5:1-16).

The law or the Holy Spirit?  What is our choice?