Epiphany Reflection: What The Magi Have To Do With Immigration Reform

Matthew’s Gospel is the only one with Magi. (He never numbers them, but there are three gifts, so one Magus carrying each gift made sense to composer/clergyman John Henry Hopkins, Jr., whose greatest hit you’ll definitely sing at Mass this Sunday.)

Whenever one of the four has a unique story, it invites us to pay special attention. Why does Matthew include these Greek Zoroastrians?

Matthew wrote his Gospel for a community of Jewish-Christians – folks from Jewish families who were among the first followers of Christ. Matthew wants to emphasize that while Jesus was Jewish, and spent his ministry with the Jewish people, his salvation and message peace are for everyone. This includes the Magi, travelers from a distant land and foreign faith tradition.

The appearance of the Magi is the first example of the way Jesus welcomes the stranger, a theme comes up again and again throughout the New Testament. Twenty-three chapters after the Magi appear in the Gospel of Matthew, for instance, Jesus tells his followers that those who welcome strangers are actually welcoming Jesus himself.

So it’s appropriate that Epiphany, January 6, kicks off “National Migration Week” here in the US Catholic Church.

This year’s week of prayer and action includes a postcard campaign urging elected officials to enact just and compassionate immigration reform that does the following:

• Provides a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country;

• Preserves family unity as a corner-stone of our national immigration system;

• Provides legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States;

• Restores due process protections to our immigration enforcement policies;

• Addresses the root causes (push factors) of migration, such as persecution and economic disparity.

This list captures the US Church’s comprehensive immigration reform position. It is strong, direct, and detailed.

Where does this passionate advocacy for reform come from?

Scripture

The Magi story is one good example of Scripture’s call to welcome the stranger. Another powerful passage comes in the verses immediately following the wise men’s departure: King Herod is determined to find the baby and kill him, and so an angel comes to Joseph and warns him to flee. “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” Jesus, Mary and Joseph are political refugees.

During his public ministry, Jesus was an itinerant preacher who traveled from place to place. Our Lord was a person on the move. His command in Matthew 25 to welcome the stranger comes from his own experience of being stranger and from his habit of entering into relationship with the unwanted people (sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes) he met on his way.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God tells the Jewish people again and again to always protect the widow, orphan, and stranger. Those traveling away from home have a privileged place in the heart of God throughout the Bible.

Tradition

Catholic social teaching over the past 100 years or so has echoed the Scriptural mandate to care for the stranger. Just three examples:

Blessed Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris: “Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence with the confines of his own state. When there are just reasons in favor or it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and to take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor the citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of women and men.”

Blessed Pope John Paul II: “If the ‘dream’ of a peaceful world is shared by all, if the refugees’ and migrants’ contribution is properly evaluated, then humanity can become more and more of a universal family and our earth a true ‘common home’.”

US Conference of Catholic Bishops: “We call upon all people of good will, but Catholics especially to welcome the newcomers in their neighborhoods and schools, in their places of work and worship with heartfelt hospitality, openness and eagerness.”

The American Catholic Experience

The Catholic Church here is an immigrant church. It grew exponentially as migration from Europe boomed in the second half of the 19th century. Catholics continue coming here now, most often from the Global South. The opportunities our ancestors found here must be extended to those seeking a better life today.

Take a minute this Epiphany to visit the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants website, and reflect on how you might be able to help build a country that welcomes our brothers and sisters well.

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