Our Invitation to Watch Over Strangers

June 12, 2017

who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Psalm 146:7–9 ESV

For many immigrants, the idea of “home” is complicated by a variety of circumstances. More than ever before, people are being displaced as they flee militarized landscapes and war-torn countries. With globalization comes access to other countries and communities where families might dream of a better life in a new city.

So people wander from somewhere that was once “home” in search of a new one. But many of our immigrant neighbors bring with them children who face high rates of poverty, memories of crisis, and scars both physical and emotional.

God’s heart for the sojourner

When we look to this psalm, we see God’s heart for the sojourner (translation: foreigner, immigrant, stranger). We see God’s active concern for the most vulnerable, and we see that the immigrant was often identified with the most vulnerable—the widow, the orphan, and the poor. God’s heart for the foreigner is a central theme expressed throughout scripture (see: Deut. 10:18-19, 14-28-29, 26:12-13, James 1:27, and Luke 4:18-19 pointing to Isaiah 61).

Psalm 146 is filled with praise to God for his gracious and faithful exercise of power to seek renewal and restoration for the immigrant. In verse 9 we read, “The Lord watches over the sojourners.” The Hebrew translation here is “to keep, watch, preserve—attend to or used as an allusion to God as a bodyguard.”

God’s gaze upon the stranger is an invitation that they might come under the shadow of His protection—and in His refuge, find shelter. God’s very character is to welcome the unwelcomed—those who are seeking a home, a place, a community.

Throughout scripture, God takes up the cause of the outsider—in particular, those who are not of the native or national identity of Israel. Doing so is God’s way of reminding the Israelites of their own exile in the land of Egypt—and calling them to remember this when they encountered strangers in their own land.

Our invitation to watch over the immigrant

As the Body of Christ, we also are invited into the privilege of watching over the immigrant, stranger, and sojourner. Of this, theologian Charles Spurgeon wrote, “It was God’s order to His ancient people that they were to be kind to strangers. Wherever they came, they were to be allowed to dwell, and were to be taken care of…and because God loved them when they (Israelites) were strangers in Egypt, they were to take special care of strangers and foreigners who came into their midst. What a grand trait this is in God’s character.”

The call to see and pray for our immigrant neighbor requires both vertical and horizontal engagement. Vertically, we look to the heart of God, which stands alongside those who are strangers, sojourners, and foreigners. He is with them in their suffering. The cross prompts us to lift our prayers toward the throne of grace and to reach out toward our neighbor.

It is the cross enables us to see the image of God in a humanity who is not of our own nationality. It is the cross that compels us to declare that a human being cannot be foreign as we are all united in being marked by the Imago Dei. It is the cross that drives us to enter into and empathize with the immigrant’s struggle for home.