Posts Tagged ‘kingdom of God’

Jesus as Just a Gardener

March 23, 2008

    Last night’s rain glistens most in the morning’s sun. This Easter morn puddles reflect greening trees, blossoming trumpet lilies, and confetti from cascarones left from yesterday’s children’s celebrations. This Semana Santa in Brownsville is poignant in its quietude.

    So it must have been that morning of the third day, when Mary Magdalene was maudlinly pacing the grounds around the empty tomb. She was searching for a clue to where Jesus had disappeared. In John 20, Mary comes across but a single person in her worried walk. “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away” (John 20:15). Supposing him to be a gardener, she at first missed recognizing the very Jesus she sought.

    While Mary at first mistook Jesus for a gardener, we too often fail to see Jesus in the gardeners of this world. Jesus charged us all saying, “…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). How often I fail to recognize the face of Jesus in everyone I meet! I marvel that it is much easier for me to see the hand of God in the blooming tulips and daffodils of a garden than the face of Jesus in the eyes of the poor and the mouth of the voiceless.

    Supposing families of immigrants to be “illegal” and thus beyond our call of care, how many of us fail to minister to them as if they were the Holy Family sojourning in Egypt? Supposing gardeners to be merely undocumented workers, how vocally do we advocate for legislation which will allow them full rights and responsibilities of citizenship? Supposing refugees and immigrants to be outsiders, how loathe we are to welcome them into our country which needs them? Supposing immigrants to be only people, how often do we miss out on an opportunity to minister to a risen Jesus? Supposing all border-crossers to be terrorists, how acquiescent we are to accept a border wall which disrespects humanity?

    The most amazing thing about the Easter story is that Jesus is not confined to the constraints of a tomb or to the limitations of His earthly body either. No, as Jesus pointed out when He told Mary, “Stop clinging to me…,” He can now be seen and ministered to in the needy, the poor, the voiceless, the stranger among us. The kingdom of God He preached about and embodied in His life will be brought about when everyone on earth recognizes the spark of the divine, the image of God, the very face of Jesus in each and every brother and sister the world over. Mother Theresa said and lived the idea that, “Every person is Christ for me and since there is only one Jesus, the person I am meeting is the one person in the world at that moment” (Spink, Kathryn Mother Theresa). Supposing Jesus to be only a gardener, or an extralegal resident, or a refugee, or a manual laborer, or an uninsured child, or a working single-mother, may we treat each person as if they are Jesus Christ who lives today.

Gardener at Chico

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Good Friday’s Implications

March 21, 2008

    In Matamoros, Mexico, on this Good Friday, the plaza is full of people watching the Via Crucis enacted before our very eyes. This passion play has been reenacted annually for well over a thousand years, yet it is still charged with emotion and meaning. A young man is beaten and hung to a wooden cross directly in front of the giant Catholic church, while centurions with over-sized helmets look on and a voice recants the Gospel narrative. Offstage, a woman cries in the heat of the day. In the crowd, everyone of us has forgotten our sunglasses, the glare off the tops of police cars, the smell of elotes and raspas nearby – all of us are focused on this ultimate story of redemption.

    I enter the cool of the church, my mind filled with memories of Easters past. The palpable memory of gumming the bread and swirling the grape juice around in my mouth, newly cognizant that these elements of the Communion represented the body and blood of a man 2,000 years ago. These memories from almost 20 years ago come back to me, just as I am sure memories came to Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross. My eyes adjust to the lighting within this cathedral. Mary is at the front of the church, head down in mourning for her son lofted up on the cross. I bow my head and am overcome with the feeling of hopelessness that must have swept over the disciples. What if this were the end? What if the kingdom of God ended on Friday and was never followed by that joyous Sunday?

    Tears drying on my sunburned cheeks, I sit in the plaza reading Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. King under a gazebo. Tamale vendors, shoe-shiners, whistling chiflado kids, men selling sweet dulces. As I read these words I have read before in a new context, I am struck by its perspective on Jesus’ death that Friday so long ago. King writes,

    Suddenly the truth was revealed that hate is a contagion; that it grows and spreads as a disease; that no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity…The words of Jesus ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ were more than a figurative expression; they were a literal prophecy…We were all involved in the death of [this man]. We tolerated hate; we tolerated the sick stimulation of violence in all walks of life; and we tolerated the differential application of law, which said that a man’s life was sacred only if we agreed with his views…We mourned a man who had become the pride of the nation, but we grieved as well for ourselves because we knew we were sick.” (145)

Fresh meaning to this Gospel story I’ve read hundreds of times. In Jesus’ day, just as in our own, the poor and the stranger were being exploited by those in power. To the extent that people of faith tolerate this immoral profiting from the pain of others, we are condoning hate and the hurt of the least of these. If Jesus is present in the least of these, we must recognize his face in every stranger, legal or extralegal, every person, regardless of race. When we give into the fear and hate of our fellow man, the passion of Christ happens once more.

    The best definition of sin that I’ve ever heard is an “absence of God.” For those 3 days while Jesus lay entombed, the whole world was stuck in this negative peace without the very Son of God. In this Plaza Mayor, it occurs to me that the word for without in Spanish is sin. Without. Without.

It must be a sin that so many of these men and women around me here in this border town of close to 500,000 are without basic necessities and without hope of fair wages. Without.

It is surely sin that when these people come looking for a better life in the United States they are refused legal means, repeatedly denied family reunification, and queued in a quota system that can take from 10 years to never. Without.

It cannot be anything but a sin that 12-20 million U.S. residents live without papers, without protection of law, without insurance, without welfare, without legal protection, without basic human rights, without a means to earned citizenship. Without.

It is a shameful sin that so many bright students of mine look at a bleak future, unsure of whether they will have the right documents to attend the best universities in this country, schools they have earned the academic right to attend. Without.

May we all use these 3 days leading up to that blessed Resurrection Sunday to think of those around us who are “without.” As James 4:17 so clearly states, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” If we know the good which needs to be done, if we see the calling of God in the strangers around us, if we recognize the face of Jesus in our neighbor and do nothing, our lives are sin- sin meaning, sin purpose, sin faith, sin love, sin the chance to bring the hope of Sunday to the “least of these,” or ourselves.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Southern Baptists

February 17, 2008

The Southern Baptist Church, like so many other Christian denominations, has continuously wrestled with its role in politics and legislation. The Church views the government through the lens of Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” The beauty of nonviolence, however, is that it allows for a different response than merely flight or fight. Nonviolence allows the person of faith an opportunity to oppose injustice while still honoring the authority of the current governing body. The point of the nonviolent activist, then, is not to escape punishment but to change unjust laws. As 1 John 4:18 so eloquently states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Love does not live in fear of punishment; it seeks to eradicate fear.

The Southern Baptist Church has so far managed to advocate for the plight of the immigrant while not openly opposing government policy. The resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 2006 entitled “On The Crisis Of Illegal Immigration” shows this tension between obedience to authority and advocacy for the “least of these.” The resolution follows, with emphasis added by me:

WHEREAS, The crisis of illegal immigration in the United States impacts tens of millions of people in many different ways; and

WHEREAS, Christians have responsibilities in two realms: as citizens of the nation (Matthew 22:21) and as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom (Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9); and

WHEREAS, As citizens of the nation, Christians are under biblical mandate to respect the divine institution of government and its just laws, but at the same time, Christians have a right to expect the government to fulfill its ordained mandate to enforce those laws (Romans 13:1-7); and

WHEREAS, As citizens of the heavenly Kingdom and members of local congregations of that Kingdom, we also have a biblical mandate to act compassionately toward those who are in need (Matthew 25:34-40), love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12); and

WHEREAS, The federal government’s failure to fulfill its responsibility in the area of illegal immigration, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, has caused severe consternation among a sizable constituency of Americans and has led to the crisis we now face; and

WHEREAS, The federal government has not only failed to control the borders but failed in its responsibility to enforce the immigration laws, not only with regard to the individuals who are here illegally, but also with regard to the employers who knowingly hire them; and

WHEREAS, There are reportedly 12 million immigrants and counting who are living and working in America without legal status, many of whom have children who are American citizens by birth; and

WHEREAS, Many of these hardworking and otherwise law-abiding immigrants have been exploited by employers and by others in society, contrary to James 5:4; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, urge the federal government to provide for the security of our nation by controlling and securing our borders; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the United States Congress to address seriously and swiftly the question of how to deal realistically with the immigration crisis in a way that will restore trust among the citizenry; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the federal government to enforce all immigration laws, including the laws directed at employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants or who are unjustly paying these immigrants substandard wages or subjecting them to conditions that are contrary to the labor laws of our country; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge citizen Christians to follow the biblical principle of caring for the foreigners among us (Deuteronomy 24:17-22) and the command of Christ to be a neighbor to those in need of assistance (Luke 10:30-37), regardless of their racial or ethnic background, country of origin, or legal status; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage Christian churches to act redemptively and reach out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants, to start English classes on a massive scale, and to encourage them toward the path of legal status and/or citizenship; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to make the most of the tremendous opportunity for evangelism and join our Master on His mission to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10) among the immigrant population to the end that these individuals might become both legal residents of the United States and loyal citizens of the Kingdom of God.

The most empowering statements of the Southern Baptist Convention come at the very end of the document. The Church does well to remember that ours is a faith of redemption. It is truly our duty, as people of faith, to come alongside our brothers and sisters and welcome them to American society as well as the Church. If the Church took seriously its obligation to the immigrant, if churches all across these United States began holding English classes and citizenship seminars, if the Church would organize a united front for the immigrant, laws would change. We must never forget that part of the Lord’s Prayer which inspires today as much as it did in 33 B.C., “thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-11)