The Memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle
Not only in the United States but throughout the world, people worry about illegal immigration. It is perhaps the leading law-and-order issue of the decade. Some argue that undocumented immigrants flout the law not just by crossing borders or overstaying visas but also by taking jobs and exploiting social services. On the other side of the debate, immigrants’ defenders point out that often they provide critical services and relieve third-world poverty by sending some earnings home. We can see Jesus addressing the question, albeit obliquely, in the gospel today when he speaks about the permanency of the Law.
Of course, Jesus has the Mosaic Law in mind when he says that “...until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” But it seems appropriate to apply the statement to the immigration debate since all laws to the extent that they are just participate in God’s eternal law. What Jesus means by the smallest part of the law is clear, but what does he mean by “all things have taken place”? He is not referring literally to the end of the world but to his cross and resurrection when the old world with its sense of a distant heaven passed away and the Kingdom of God was firmly established. The statement therefore implies the need to reassess immigration laws in light of the same cross and resurrection.
Barnabas may not have been able to appreciate all that Jesus means in this gospel passage, at least to the extent that Paul did. He certainly possessed some virtue as he is the same Barnabas whom Acts praises for selling his land and handing all the proceeds to the apostolic community. Yet he sides with the Jewish-Christians who demanded that pagan converts in Antioch follow the Mosaic dietary laws. Of course, Paul’s sense that the new dispensation abrogated dietary laws eventually proved to be what God intends. Similarly, American bishops see as just some of the claims to legitimacy of undocumented immigrants in American society.