But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: John 1:12 KJV
Acceptance is something all of us long to experience. Feeling hopeless because of war, poverty or violence many travel across borders without documents searching for a place to belong. There is plenty of debate today over the subject of illegal immigration but no matter which side of that issue you are on it may help you to picture how Jesus was treated. In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John it is noted that Jesus came into the world, but that the world did not accept Him. In fact just after His birth Herod ordered His soldiers to kill Jesus. During His public ministry His neighbors tried throwing Him over a cliff. (Aren’t you glad you don’t live in that neighborhood!). Later some of the most powerful religious leaders of His day plotted to have Him executed. Their biggest issue was He was a threat to their power and that He wasn’t one of them.
But some welcomed Jesus. They were folks whose identity was also not well received. These were societal outsiders, like a five time divorcee from Samaria, a blind beggar, a demon possessed man who lived in a graveyard and several rough fishermen. They were accustomed to being shunned by polite society and did not hold to popular notions of acceptability. To them, the power of Jesus’ words and the love they felt in His presence could only be explained one way – He must have come from God. That simple faith granted them a very special right: -the right to be called God’s children and accepted into citizenship in Heaven!
For the entire ten years we lived in a rural Pennsylvania community we were considered the “New People”. I felt better when I learned that there were other “New People” just up the road from us. They were from New Jersey and had lived there since the 1950’s!
In a more serious light the hysteria and anger over “New People” (Mexicans, Arabs, Muslims, Asians) has culminated in the most recent massacre in New Zealand. How we as Christians to respond must be linked to how Jesus responded to hatred and prejudice. Jesus loved the immigrant, the stranger and amazingly so even His enemies. Jesus was not angry with Samaritans who had come from another place and worshipped differently than Jews. Jesus did not protest about the brutal Roman rule or even agitate for the removal of Herod, who had murdered his cousin John the Baptist. Maybe Jesus was accepting of the “New People” because he knew what being rejected felt like.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. John 1:10-11 NKJV
Change can be difficult and unsettling, especially if we feel we are threatened by those new and different circumstances. But no matter what situation we find ourselves in the only true place of peace and acceptance is not in being surrounded by “Our People”. Real peace comes as a result of being adopted into God’s family by the blood of Jesus Christ.
I was thinking how last Wednesday a friends of ours; who is one of those, “New People” became a U.S. citizen. He and His family eat different food, speak a different language and has a different culture. But today Raj and I both have exactly the same rights, responsibilities and privileges. In the same way, when Jesus laid down His life on the cross to pay for our sins, we gained the privilege of citizenzenship and includsion in the community of God. Yes as His children, we may always be treated as the “New People”; but God calls us His own. How much more should we be ready to embrace whoever He has allowed to live just down the street in our town?
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20 NKJV
Matthew 13:44 The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field
The myth that the streets were paved with gold clashed harshly with the reality that my grandparents faced as they found themselves in the cold confines of Ellis Island waiting for approval to enter the city of New York. Yet despite the struggles they faced in a new and strange land they came with determination to begin a new life. These weren’t the classic “Pioneers” with covered wagons, but they were none the less bravely facing the same kinds of challenges.
Though my grandfather could have decided to live in an Italian neighborhood insulated from the culture around him, he chose his own path. America was his new home and he was determined to put down roots here and to begin a new kind of life. Over his entire life Grampa returned only once to Italy. He raised my Dad in a mixed neighborhood in Far Rockaway Queens. He did just like the man in the parable, he sold everything he had to gain the treasure he saw, even if no one else agreed.
Today as his grandchild I look back in amazement at the sacrifice he made and hard work it took. He came on the boat at 16 years of age with his older 17 year old brother. He worked with some of his brothers in the barber business till he had his own shop, married and provided a home for their six children. More importantly he taught my Dad that family life meant everybody working together cheerfully because was how life should be lived. Grampa was never at all ashamed of his humble Italian roots from Calabria, but over the barbershop door waved a new flag. The flag of his new country. He gave us an example of how success isn’t about being like everyone else. Lasting success is about being true to your dream, grateful for your opportunities and willing to give your all for your family. What a blessing our family has today because Grampa was not only an immigrant he was a pioneer!