5th Sunday after Pentecost • Proper 10 C track 2, 7/14/2019
Good Morning St. Mary’s!
It seems we couldn’t pick a more fitting scripture for this Sunday, a Sunday when raids are threatening to round up immigrants in our city and other cities – our impulse is to define this scripture as the obvious call to reach out, to tend, to support and defend those who are under attack. And that is true and right and good. I hope you will make use of the resources available for how to stand up and be a witness, an advocate against the horrific persecution of people who have come to this country seeking life, just life.
However, the parable is pointing out something else. The parable points to the likelihood that the person who is maligned and denigrated as the one who will stand up to do what is right, the Samaritan. It is the one who is defined as a threat who is actually a help, and those typically seen as “helpers” or “good people” who are shown to be un-neighborly, preoccupied with themselves. It is a challenge to all of us who are religious people who strive to do what is good or right, not to get caught up in ourselves or in extraordinary efforts, but simply to look at our ordinary lives. Deuteronomy spells it out: God is very near, the works of God as close as our own hearts. In our current times, this might mean that we might never witness ICE agents harassing or arresting someone, we might not have the opportunity to use our cell phone to video acts of aggression (though we might)… and, each of us has the capacity to witness to the unfairness of assumptions about people who appear to be immigrants, each of us can talk about the injustice, the flagrant violation of human rights that is going on both in New York City and at our southern border.
Why would anyone doubt the injustices happening now? For starters, Fox News is suggesting that everyone is fine, that children in cages sleeping on concrete floors are well cared for. Some of us get righteous even imagining that there might be people who do not think the camps of children or adults is a serious matter. I think it is complicated, and it has to do with understanding how much we are all connected to one another.
When I was at the Lights for Liberty rally and protest on Friday evening, I was troubled by some of the speakers. Speakers who were passionate about the rights of immigrants, and to promote their cause said things like “we are all immigrants.” We are not. Early European immigrants in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries came to this land seeking a better life, and they slaughtered Native people and stole the land. We must be cautious not to equate those immigrants with those coming to the United States today; in a sense the racist fear-mongering that goes on today is more relevant to that history than it is to the present.
People of African descent who were kidnapped, transported to and held captive on this land were not “immigrants.” They were brought here against their will and kept here against their will. The fact that enslaved Africans survived and were eventually freed hundreds of years later, and have made a life in this country despite years of racial terrorism and gross inequality does not make them immigrants, simply extraordinary survivors.
When we say, “we are all immigrants,” we discount, ignore or cover over these appalling acts of violence that have yet to be addressed seriously in our national life. To say, “we are all immigrants” is to set up a tension among people who have been mistreated and violated by those with the most power, it suggests “we are all the same” somehow, and we are not.
At the same time, we must be cautious not to fall into this manufactured tension, a manipulated suspicion between and among those of us who are treated as “less than” by the dominant powers of the United States. Regardless of who is saying, “we are all immigrants,” we remember that the tensions created among Black peoples, between Black and Brown people, and among all people who truly seek justice for every human being, the tensions and conflicts among us serve the status quo, arguing about who has it worse only maintains the unequal access to safety and security that should be provided to all people.
In this, I return to the parable: remember it is the person you have been taught to fear, that you have been told is your enemy, who acts as a neighbor. For whom did it serve that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was so dangerous? How did it happen that Samaritans and Judeans and Galileans, all under Roman rule, were so suspicious of one another, would disrespect one another, and did not collectively resist the military occupation? Why do we- as people descended from Native and African survivors, and immigrants over the centuries- why do we not resist the homogenization of our history, why do we not take the time to hear the particularity of one another and resist any power that would legitimate or discount the suffering of any of us?
I am a descendent of immigrants. The Foulke side of my family came to this land in the 1600’s from Wales, possibly seeking religious freedom, they were not particularly poor, but they struggled in making a new life here. I don’t know how they participated in the stealing of Native land, though I know they claimed land in Pennsylvania and then the midwest at some point. I don’t know if they claimed to own human beings, but someone must have as I have met Black people with the same last name. Despite their many advantages, they did not flourish financially until my father’s generation when he became solidly middle class.
My mother’s family came from Italy in the 1930’s. My grandparents fled the rising fascism in Italy, having supported the resistance, their lives were in danger and their home had been raided at least once by the Nazis. They came seeking freedom, but they came with resources. My grandfather had a graduate school fellowship, and my grandmother came through Ellis Island with money sewn into her coat. Even with her privileges, my grandmother was required to check in regularly with the local police station, and could not travel freely because she was considered an “enemy alien” through the end of World War II.
The immigration experiences of both sides of my family are vastly different from other European stories, and very different from the stories of people of color. The United States has welcomed some immigrants and barred others, it has promoted some and limited others. The Government has been fickle: welcoming as long as people serve the economic interests of the powerful, but excluding and threatening as soon as people are not needed.
We need to listen to one another’s stories, we need to be aware of the differences, and we need to stand up for dignity and human rights for everyone. The struggle to treat new immigrants and asylum seekers humanely is the same struggle as the one to prevent police murdering Black people. Every human being is the image of God, deserving of dignity in their/our full humanity and story, deserving of protection and care not terrorism, deserving of justice and healing not marginalization. I’ve been told, often, that I want too much, that I should focus on one issue at a time, but that is not how we live our lives! We are whole people, and we are many, each with our own story, and with God’s story. God’s commandments are as close as our mouth and our heart, we have only to choose what is right, not to be distracted by fear or duty or the false stories of who is more deserving. We have only to be ready for the miracle that our healing is bound up in another who might have been the least likely to help, and yet who responded as neighbor to us. It is not too much, rather it is the balm that heals, it is the connections that make us whole. Amen.