At border, pastor encounters a teen named Jesus
Eric Peterson, pastor of Colbert Presbyterian Church, reflected on Jesus' call to love neighbors and welcome strangers, saying that he "met Jesus" when he crossed the border into Mexico in October as part of a team of 12 pastors from Spokane.
He wasn't anything like I expected. He had brown skin, sad eyes and a lanky build. He spoke softly a language I didn't understand. He pronounced his name "Yesus," which is different than I've been saying.
God created humanity in God's own image, and ever since we've been trying to return the favor. It's true for me. I've always imposed images onto Jesus that I'm accustomed to and comfortable with.
My thoughtless default is to imagine God as a strong, white male, who is well-spoken, confident in his spiritual authority, with an uncanny ability to persuade others. He's tall, charismatic, gentle, good looking, a charmer with the ability to win others over.
I met the living Jesus, incarnated as a Hispanic teen who, with his mother and younger brother, was waiting for his number to be called in his pursuit of asylum. He and his family fled their rural village in Central Mexico, which was overrun by gang violence.
Neither the other pastors nor I dared ask where his father was. We presumed he was dead, a victim of violence. Our world is home to so much violence. It defies values of the coming, peaceable kingdom of God.
Jesus and his fatherless family had joined a caravan of thousands who risked their lives making the dangerous journey to a legal port of entry into the U.S. Migrating women use birth control because there is an 80 percent chance they will be raped as they travel.
If the journey isn't harsh enough, people seeking refuge in our country are deterred with a long wait and the threat of detention. From the moment they knock on the door of our border, they are made to feel unwanted, even criminal. The message might be displayed with a neon sign: "No Vacancy."
A friend recently told me that, on entering New York Harbor on his return from a European cruise, a voice on the public address system quoted the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Emma Lazarus wrote of Lady Liberty as the "Mother of Exiles,"
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
My friend said these words sounded wrong, given the severe limitations the administration has placed on the number of people permitted to settle in the U.S. The dissonance between the 1883 poem and our 2019 policy was jolting.
The words stand for how things should be. Poetry does this, as do the scriptures. They describe a kingdom that is coming, but is met by resistance and hostility.
The question for Christians is, "do I accept the reality of what is, or do I serve the divine vision of what is to be?"
Jesus did the latter, claiming a prophetic mission from Isaiah, saying, God sent him "to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18).
My brief visit to the wall revealed a Jesus who rejects the seats of power, privilege and prestige to huddle with hurting people of this world. This savior locates himself in out-of-the-way places with the most overlooked people.
If we want to be close to Jesus, we have to go where he goes, to be in the company of "the least of my brothers and sisters," people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked or in prison (Mt. 25:35-36).
It was transformative for this North American man of privilege to meet a disheveled Jesus in the company of his brothers and sisters. Although the border wall was being visited by the hosts of heaven, there wasn't a welcome mat. It's a sobering reminder that people—though separated by thousands of miles—are no less our neighbors, brothers and sisters.
Hospitality to such neighbors is perhaps the clearest exhibit of the coming peaceable kingdom of God. Although I live on this side of the wall, I'd like to be found on that side of history.
Eric Peterson - Colbert Presbyterian
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December, 2019