Jesus Was Tear-Gassed This Weekend

I don’t know exactly what the United States’ policy response to the migrant caravan should be, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be this:

The first wave of men, women and children fleeing drug war-induced violence in Central America were met at the border this weekend by Border Patrol agents who proceeded to fire tear gas at them.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that those who are his disciples would be welcoming to the immigrant and the stranger. He tells us that as we do to the least, we also do to him. He implores us to love our neighbor. He is shown to us early in life as a migrant himself, fleeing with his parents across the border into Egypt.

If we believe Jesus us with us here today, then we almost certainly could find him in the caravan of people fleeing and looking for asylum.

If we really do think Jesus is found in the face of our neighbors, then he surely was subjected to tear gas this weekend at the border.

If we take seriously the Jesus we read of in the Gospels, then we know he is not found in the halls of power. He is not sitting in the Oval Office, and he is not blessing those who give orders to tear gas innocents, and he is not casting blame on those who are looking for a better life.

The Gospels show us that, time and time again, Jesus takes the side of the suffering, the poor, the convicted and the hurting. I have no doubt Jesus is fleeing back south, away from America, with tears streaming down his face, both from the chemical attacks he was subjected to, and because of the sorrow he feels for those who are victimized by the powerful.

Miguel de la Torre writes powerfully of the Jesus who was a border crosser and a migrant in The Politics of Jesus:

And while most border crossers today do so as an act of desperation, Jesus, theologically speaking, chose to be a border crosser as an act of solidarity with the least of these. The biblical text reminds us that, although divine, Jesus became human, assuming the condition of the alienated. Accordingly: “[Jesus], who subsisting in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, in the likeness of humans, and being found in the fashion of a human, he humbled himself, becoming obedient until death, even the death of the cross” (Ph. 2:6-8). The radicalness of the incarnation is not so much that the Creator of the universe became human but rather that God chose to become poor, specifically, a wandering migrant.

Is it any wonder that the second most common phrase used throughout the Hebrew Bible exhorts the reader to take care of the alien among you, along with the widows and the orphans? For those who claim to be Christians, responsibility toward aliens is paramount; after all God incarnated Godself as an alien – today’s ultra-disenfranchised. Jesus understands what it means to be seen as inferior because he was from a culture different from the dominant one.

Politicians have used fear of immigrants as a tool for countless years to win power in this country, and we are at a point where those words are being translated into violent action against innocent people. Christians have a duty to stand with those who are in need, because that is where we find Christ. All Christians should find what is happening abhorrent, regardless of how we feel about immigration laws in this country. No law is more important than a person.

That is what our faith is all about: love before legalism.

Christians should consider it their duty to welcome the immigrant if America won’t. We must be the hands and feet of Christ, regardless of how hard the powers of the world try to exert control through fear of the other. Let us find the love for our neighbors that America is unwilling and unable to muster.


And He Healed Them All

In the news today:

Health care workers who want to refuse to treat patients because of religious or moral beliefs will have a new defender in the Trump administration.

This, of course, is straight out of the religious right’s anti-LGBT playbook, right along with protecting bakers and photographers and other businesses who want to discriminate. This case, however, stands out for me, because of the direct Biblical implications.

Jesus, among many other things, was a healer. Throughout the Gospels, he heals numerous people, of a variety of ailments: blindness, leprosy, a withered hand, bleeding, even death. He heals people, by touch, who were deemed unclean and unacceptable by the culture of the time. Where other healers wouldn’t go, Jesus went. He loved the unlovable, not in word, but in deed.

thehealericonMost importantly, Jesus never refused to heal anyone.

To take just one example, flip to Matthew 9:20-22. In this story, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus heals a woman who had “been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years,” via her touching his cloak. By Levitical law, she is unclean, and he is made unclean at her touch. In the time of Jesus, this would have been unthinkable and dangerous. Being unclean was the worst thing a Jew could be, according to the Law of Moses, and the rituals required to become clean again, not to mention the massive inconvenience to a person’s life in the meantime, were onerous.

Yet, Jesus never hesitated to heal her. He did not get angry at the women, call her unclean, worry about his own cleanliness, and by extension, his own soul or salvation under the law. Rather, he simply healed, and by healing, loved unconditionally. In fact, he went so far as to tell the woman that her faith had healed her. That is, the courage and trust that she showed in coming to him, was greatly rewarded.

Those who are sick today, who might be considered unclean or unwanted, because of their gender identity or who they love, also come to health care providers in trust, and with courage, believing they, too, are worthy of their humanity, and thus of being made well and whole. I would hope that any health care provider, and especially those who heal under the name of “Christian,” would emulate the unconditional nature of Jesus, and heal all in need. No conditions, no consequences, no caveats.

This attempt by the Trump administration, and the politicized religious right, to divide and dehumanize, to make “us and them” relevant categories again, to try to institute the same kind of blind dogmatism and legalism that Jesus stood so forcefully against, can not be allowed to take hold. If someone in need comes into their operating room, someone the preacher and the politician on their cable news show told them is “untouchable,” and they go looking for a verse of Scripture for guidance, I hope the only one they find is Matthew 15:30:

“Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others, and laid them at his feet,

and he healed them all.”

What Good Can Come from Nazareth?

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?

26219510_10214854747462811_269950785460915258_nThe 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.