The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:43b-46
Can anything good come from a shithole like Nazareth? Can anything good come from a shithole like Haiti, or El Salvador, or Tanzania, or Chad?
Or, maybe a better question is, can anything good come from a shithole like 5th Avenue, Manhattan?
The sad little man serving as President of the United States confirmed everything we already know about him, calling Latin American and African countries “shitholes,” and asking why the people from there are allowed in our country. By doing so, he confirmed that he is completely without empathy or knowledge of anything outside his own tiny bigoted worldview. He is unable to feel respect for any human being who does nor have direct utilitarian value for him in whatever moment he is in. He is unable to imagine why countries like Haiti or El Savador might be so-called “shitholes,” how U.S. and European colonialism and hegemony led directly to the high poverty and abysmal living conditions of people in those places.
And, he is completely unable to imagine anything good coming from those places, other than maybe bananas or chocolate or beaches or something. He has a stunted moral imagination, limited to utilitarian conceptions of money-making potential for himself.
Similarly, in John’s Gospel, Nathanael expresses a sentiment towards small, impoverished places, far from the glitz and glamor of the city. Nazareth is an out-of-the-way village, never mentioned in any ancient sources aside from the Bible. It is, to use the phrase of our President, a “shithole.” The prevailing attitude was that nothing good, certianly not a prophet or messiah would come from a place like Nazareth. Nazareth had value in as far as it could continue proving disposable laborers for Herod’s building projects in nearby Sephoris. Prophets and messiahs would come from Jerusalem or Caesarea Maritima, surely. Never a shithole like Nazareth.
When our president dismisses places like Haiti as “shitholes,” he dismisses a whole history, culture and, most importantly, a people, as unworthy of respect or thought. He helps lay the ideological groundwork that makes those people and places disposable and unworthy of our time or money. He contributes, in short, to dehumanization and hate, things as un-Christlike as you can possibly imagine.
God chose to appear in the world via the shithole of Nazareth, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Likewise, God today makes God’s self known in the shitholes of the world, not in the places of power and beauty and prestige. God is found in Haiti. God is found in El Salvador. God is found in Africa, in the form of every human being denigrated and disrespected by the likes of Donald Trump and every one else who thinks those places unworthy. God chooses shitholes as God’s home on earth, rendering them instead holy and beautiful. God eschews the boardroom for the hut.
Maybe, the next time our president wants to throw rocks at the least and the forgotten of the world, he should be mindful of his own glass house.