Note: I actually wrote both this and the previous post last week before the latest graphic image and news of the man and his daughter drowning in the Rio Grande while attempting to cross to come to the US. Countless pieces have been shared specifically about this image and what it represents, including an excellent one by The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott.
My last post went in-depth on what the word “Samaritan” actually means and how we should consider it for today. That focused on the parable of the Good Samaritan and applying it on an individual one-on-one basis.
Now I’d like to look at what that means on a larger scale. Dehumanizing groups of people has always been a part of human history, and if anything, it is stronger than ever today. When the most powerful person on earth has spoken repeatedly of groups of people as “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists,” due only to their nationality, saying “these aren’t people. These are animals” about anyone (even gang members), and professing entire groups of people as “the enemy of the people” simply because they report things he doesn’t like (even if provably true), we need to reevaluate.
I mentioned in the previous post about the need to try to place ourselves in tragic moments to better identify and empathize with the victims. It forces us to actually reckon with issues rather than claiming “that would never happen in my community.” It forces us to really evaluate what matters most.
We need to do the same when we hear stories about genocide and persecution taking place in other countries across the globe and ask ourselves what we would do in those situations. Obviously imagining is not experiencing the real thing, but so many of us (myself included) have no idea what it feels like to be a refugee and literally take what little you have and flee on foot thousands of miles in hopes of asylum in a new country.
Imagine being in that situation with your newborn child: running away from the only home you know to flee violence and try to ensure the safety of your baby, only to reach the border of the place you’ve been told is the land of opportunity, begging for sanctuary and having your child ripped from your arms and essentially thrown into a cage under inhumane living conditions. Maybe you never see them again. Maybe you do, but the traumatic experience at such a young age means they never trust you again. Imagine being demonized by the people of that country for doing this, told that if you cared about not having your child ripped out of your arms you never should have come.
Imagine feeling as if you literally have no place to go, no options to pursue, to care for your family and keep them safe. And then imagine people hearing that about you and responding, “well, if they couldn’t take care of them, they shouldn’t have had a family to begin with.” If you found yourself thinking “yes, but…” or anything similar while going through these last few paragraphs, please go back and try again. Step out of your worldview for just a moment and really try to grasp what this must feel like for someone.
I’ve heard people argue that this level of empathy and redefining of neighbor (following the definition Jesus gave us) is all fine and good on an individual basis, but we can’t run a nation based on this principle. To be fair, there is some validity to that, which is a key part of why Jesus focused not on politics but on people. However, my issue is when the same people who say we can’t apply this principle on a national level try to claim that we have (or need to have) a “Christian” nation.
Those two claims (don’t apply Christian ethics at the national level while building a Christian nation) are fundamentally incompatible. Either we have a secular nation (which in no way means anti-Christian; it simply means not adhering to any one religion over any other on a national level – also known as the First Amendment) with rules based not on the commands of Christ but on the fundamental needs of a well-run state, or we have a Christian nation, which by definition would have to adhere to the commands of Christ or lose its status as a Christian nation. And we can’t look to ancient Israel for an example and claim they had walls and isolated themselves from their neighbors. Jesus established an entirely new covenant with all the people of the world, who are made equal in him (Galatians 3:28).
America is not the chosen people and promised land of God any more than any other nation. Search the Bible; God has made no promises to this country. Instead, you’ll find many words about supporting those in need, and God caring for the oppressed and bringing down oppressors. You’ll find Matthew 25:45, when he says that what we did not do for the least of these, we did not do for him.
I don’t have answers to these hugely challenging political questions about borders and security. But Jesus made it abundantly clear how those who profess to follow him must treat others. And just as Jesus focused on people over politics, we are called to go and do likewise.
Our rhetoric is incredibly dangerous. It takes very few steps to go from dehumanizing a group of people with our words to literally leading them to the slaughter (simply look to our own history with Native Americans or slaves, Germany in World War II, or so many other examples in history). And history is not kind to those memories; even now we can look back to the numbers of Jews who sought asylum from Hitler in the United States and were rejected. We were complicit in their deaths.
I’m not saying we will get to the point of the holocaust from a literal perspective; what I’m saying is from a Christ perspective, we already have. Just as Jesus tells us that it’s not enough to not physically commit adultery, but even looking at someone with adulterous thoughts is as bad as committing the deed, simply thinking of others as less than us already reveals a threshold we’ve crossed in our minds. We cannot love God without loving our neighbor, and Jesus made clear our neighbor is everybody.
If we truly believe that in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, then quite literally there is not a single person on earth who is inferior. To think otherwise is heartbreaking and can lead down a path politically to horrific events of history.
Let us heed the call of Jesus at the end of the Good Samaritan parable. Go and do likewise.