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What we can learn from our biblical ancestors as migrants

By Father Lawrence Mick
Catholic News Service

The first three definitions my dictionary lists to describe an immigrant are: foreigner, outsider, alien.
Israel, as a people, had experience as foreigners, outsiders and aliens. The Book of Deuteronomy (26:5) commands the Israelites to offer the sacrifice of the first fruits and to “declare in the presence of the Lord, your God, ‘My father was a refugee Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as a resident alien.’” Maybe Israel’s experience living as aliens in Egypt guided their treatment of aliens in their own country. Exodus 23:9 commands, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
In the infancy narrative in Matthew’s Gospel, the author presents the Holy Family as repeating this sojourn in Egypt. To escape Herod’s murderous plans, Mary and Joseph take the child Jesus and flee to Egypt, to return only after it was safe.
The members of the Holy Family were foreigners, outsiders and aliens in a strange land. They fled their homeland, seeking safety for their family, much like today’s refugees and immigrants.
Pope Francis made his first trip outside of Rome as pontiff to the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major point of arrival for undocumented migrants from Africa and the Middle East seeking entry into Europe. A boat overloaded with migrants from Africa had capsized, killing many. The pope prayed for the victims, stood in solidarity with the surviving migrants and spoke of the pressures that force people to leave their homes, condemning what he called a “globalization of indifference” to migrants.
Reporter John Allen noted that the pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, is “now something of an immigrant himself.” After his election as pontiff, Francis said the cardinals had summoned him to Rome from the “end of the world.”
Could we even think of Jesus as an immigrant in our world? Was he an outsider, a stranger in a strange land? Certainly, he took on the human condition, with all its trials. He lived among us as one who had “nowhere to rest his head.” Even in Israel, his origin brought scorn. He grew up in Nazareth, and when Philip told Nathanael (in John 1:46) about Jesus, Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
It’s perhaps an overstatement to say that Jesus was an immigrant from another land, but he certainly identified himself with all of humanity, especially with those who are suffering. He taught us to see him in the needy. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Maybe our Christmas story can lead us to recognize Jesus more readily in those who are migrants today and to welcome them as the face of Christ among us.

Father Mick is a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a freelance writer.

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