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Jesus had a famous saying he told some very legally minded folks following him around Galilee, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath” (see Mark 2:27). He uttered it not as a piece of political theory, but just as a reminder of the priority of human lives in the application of the laws that govern those lives.
One of Jesus’ problems was that on the Sabbath he wanted to heal people. “Sorry,” these legally minded folks declared, “it’s really unfortunate that these people are sick and that you can’t heal them; but that’s just the effect of an even and consistent application of the law.”
Jesus didn’t even argue further about the law, beyond the earlier point he had made I quoted above. He just looked at them, grieved and angry at the way the law took up so much of their vision, and did the healing anyway (see Mark 3:1-5 for the story).
But honestly, I wish he’d argued the point a little bit further, because I don’t have the power to go around the debate by performing a miracle, and I want to know what I’m supposed to say to those claiming, “It’s really unfortunate these kids are being separated from their parents at the border, but that’s just the effect of an even and consistent application of the law.”
I get that — I think. I can appreciate the logic. I just don’t think the logic of the law trumps the demands of the human beings suffering as a result. Yes, these people may not have legitimate rights based on their legal status, but they do have legitimate rights simply by their existing as people created in the image of God.
So, just in case it’s not clear, I believe the family separations that are resulting from the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration are wrong, destructive to human lives, and should be stopped. It’s not that I’m pro-illegal immigration, it’s just that I’m very much pro-family — after all, it’s no accident that we call God our ‘Father.’ As I understand Jesus to have been saying about the Sabbath, we must take the priority of human lives into account in the application of the laws that govern those lives. Especially the little lives of the youngest and “least of these.”
So that’s where I stand. But whether you agree with me or not, I’d ask you consider three things as you figure out how to respond to this issue in your own heart, in your discussions with friends and family, and in our church.
This requires heart. It’s often said (it’s not a scriptural quote but a summary statement of a lot of scriptures) that God has “a heart for the poor.” If that’s true, than we have to have a heart too. Mind alone won’t suffice. We can all debate about illegal immigration and family separation policies at an intellectual level, but at some point we have to engage our hearts. The Lord said to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry…” (Exodus 3:7). The Lord’s response was born of heart and compassion, not of rational deduction; may our response have heart and compassion as well. How do you think the Lord hears this cry?
Saying something is doing something. There’s really very little as individuals or a community we can change for these kids and their families. We can’t even send them teddy bears or PlayStations. This is frustrating for those of us who like concrete ways to help make things different. In this case, real change demands a legal response, of either the executive branch or legislative branch or both. About all we have is the little thing of letting our representatives know how we feel. But don’t let this feeling of impotence make you mute. Who knows what little seed you can sow just by articulating, with compassion and clarity, how you feel about this. The politicians may not be listening, but your kids and grandkids are (and younger folks, your parents are listening too).
Don’t make it hard on yourself to love those who feel differently. I serve a suburban church in Texas — it’s clear enough to me that we are not all of one mind on what the proper solution to this issue is. And unity in the body of Christ — even where there is real disagreement over matters of substance — is its own of moral imperative. At times like this, it is possible to phrase our feelings — really our deeply held convictions — about this issue in a way that questions the intelligence of those who feel otherwise, denies their moral competency, and even calls into question their basic humanity.
As noted above, it’s not that there’s a whole lot we can do about this. But one thing we can do is tear each other apart over it, scatter the flock (see John 10:12). That’s certainly what our politicians and media will encourage; I beg you to do better.