homily: The Israelites’ exodus and immigration

Readings: EX 22:20-26 and MT 22:34-40

What comes to mind when you hear the word departure?

Before the pandemic, I used to travel by plane often for work. On those days, when I heard the word departure, it meant one of three things: leaving, working, returning. I was leaving home for a new destination. Once there, I participated in a bunch of meetings. Then, I returned home. My travel was predictable, productive, and rewarding. That is not the case for some people who depart their homes due to oppression, poverty, or persecution. Their travel is usually a one-way ticket filled with uncertainty, frustration, and even despair.

Take, for example, the Israelites’ departure from Egypt. The Old Testament details their departure in the Book of Exodus. The word Exodus comes from the Greek word for “departure.” Through Moses, God led the Israelites out of Egypt in search of a new home. A place where they could escape oppression and poverty. A place they could call home. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to all the sudden having to depart from their homes? To leave all their possessions and the life they knew behind? Imagine the fear on their faces as they saw Pharaoh’s army approaching them?

After their escape, the Israelites became frustrated with the poor conditions of their journey. They began to complain and to adore other gods. To bring them closer to Him, God gave them the commandments. He also gave them social laws to guide their interactions with others. One of those laws says: “You should not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” God wanted the Israelites to honor the dignity of those who, like them, departed their homes under challenging circumstances to escape oppression, persecution, and poverty. To me, the Israelites’ exodus represents three elements that we can relate to the status of immigration in our country today: aliens, faith in God, and mercy.

First, we are a nation of aliens. Like the Israelites, the first settlers came to America to escape their difficult lives. They departed their homes in need of a new home. Their efforts gave birth to the nation we know today. Outside of the Native American’s experience, our nation’s heritage is one of immigration.  Unfortunately, in our political climate, some people have forgotten that. Instead, our country is engaged in a battle of migrants vs. Americans. Some people are even supporting and sponsoring policies aimed at stopping immigration at any cost. Those who believe in such extremes go as far as supporting breaking up families to achieve their goals. You probably heard in the news that the parents of 545 children separated at the United States-Mexico border still cannot be found. Can you imagine the terror those children and their parents must be experiencing? As Christians, we should be outraged by any policy or law which degrades the human dignity of another person. Does this mean that we should not have immigration policies? No. We need immigration policies. However, immigration laws ought to be just and humane. Should we be the only nation responsible for it? No, we should work with nations to improve the lives of those thinking to migrate so they may have prosperous, secure, and productive lives in their own country. However, we should not forget our past when dealing with immigration because we are a nation of aliens.  

Second, we are a nation founded by people of faith in God. The Israelites trusted in God when they departed Egypt, and so did the pilgrims who arrived in the Mayflower in 1620.  They have faith in God, so much so that that they called themselves “Saints.” We can influence their influence in words printed on every coin and dollar “In God we trust.” However, those words make us hypocrites if we, like the Sadducees, do not obey these commandments: “You should love your Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on those two commandments.” To live up to these commandments is to love God, for Jesus said: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15), and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me (John 14:21). The pilgrims tattoed those words in their hearts. We are a nation founded by people of faith in God.

Finally, we are a nation of mercy. We believe so strongly in this virtue that ironically, many people have died to protect it, for example, during the nation’s civil war and conflicts worldwide. We are an imperfect nation. Deep within us, however, God has planted the seed that our neighbor is all the people in the world. A grain of faith that tells us that each one of us, including immigrants, are beloved children of God. We all make up the mystical body of Jesus. Therefore, we ought to welcome immigrants in our nation. We should take loving and accepting actions to protect them from unjust and unnecessary suffering, especially the most vulnerable: women and children. To do otherwise angers God, for He said: “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword, then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.” God uses strong language to make a point: He cares for all his children. He desires that we be merciful like He is merciful towards us (cf. Luke 6:36). His mercy is such that His crucified Son stands in front of us. Please take a look at him. That’s how merciful God is. Jesus died not just for some of God’s children. He died for all, including immigrants. That teaching is what makes us a nation of mercy.

As you prepare to receive the Eucharist, pray to God to show you how we, as a Christian community, can help support immigrants. Meditate on how you can help our nation become more accepting of immigrants. Ask God to show how you can help our political leaders pass just and humane immigration.

Immigrants are children of God in exodus. Like the Israelites and the first pilgrims, immigrants depart their homes searching for a nation of aliens filled with faith and mercy.

St. Michael, Guardian and Defender of the Church, pray for us.