Earlier this week, pictures emerged of a small body on the seashore. A toddler, a cuddly three-year old, no different than the sweet pre-schoolers I greeted Tuesday on their first day at school. A small lifeless body, washed up on a beach. The picture and story quickly went viral, a shot to the heart, revealing the reality of the Syrian refugee crisis…and perhaps the ignorance of the rest of the world. I’ve struggled to process this story, this photo, this child as I’ve driven back and forth to work, sat in church meetings, watched a baseball game, prayed and journaled. Maybe you have too.
After I graduated college, I moved to a small town, forty minutes from home. I had my first real church job, and I lived in a small house, converted into two shabby apartments. It wasn’t the “best” side of town, several moms at the church told me later, but it was my first real apartment. Across the street was an old two-story white house. There were always a few cars outside and always three or four brown men on the front porch. People from the town called them “those illegal Mexicans.” The reality was that they were young Guatemalan men, recruited from their home country to work in the chicken processing plants outside of town. Many were no older than me, sending money back home to wives and mothers, sleeping in shifts in their old white house, greedy landlords packing as many as 20 or 30 in a house at $100 a head. That was the story anyway. I admit, I never crossed the street. I nodded when church people said things like, “Someone should do something about that.” Even when their sweet Guatemalan children began entering our doors for our preschool, I tried not to think about it and hoped it would get better. Hoped these kids’ lives would be better. Hoped someone would do something.
There’s a dangerous game of “hot potato” happening in this world, not just with refugees and borders. The shrugs, the phrase “It’s not my problem” being thrown around. Worse–the ignorance, blind or intentional. It’s not my responsibility. Someone else will deal with that…someone with more knowledge, more power.
And yet…it is our responsibility. If we claim to be children of God, friends and followers of Jesus, people of the cross, Christians, then we know and embrace that Jesus showed us the best way to live, the ultimate fulfillment of our humanity. If we belong to Jesus, than Aylan is our responsibility. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. And my sister’s, my enemy’s, my neighbor’s, my sister’s, my mayor’s, my spouse’s, my pastor’s keeper. If I belong to Jesus, the answer is always YES.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]
I won’t even begin to pretend to be an expert on politics or immigration or refugees. There’s very little I could speak expertly on. But–do I expect my government or my elected congressman or any politician to live out my beliefs for me? No–I expect myself to live out out this religion that James writes about. That is hard enough.
I keep thinking about this passage from James 2…
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
I’ve taught Bible studies on this passage before and each time we read this section, there is literal eye-rolling in the room. “Of course,” they say. “Of course that’s the wrong response.” True…but how often have we said things like…
“Good luck with that…”
“I hope you have a better day…”
“I hope things get better for you…”
“I hope someone does something about that…”
“I hope you learned something…”
“I hope that doesn’t happen here.”
This is cheap hope. A sad, homogenized, lifeless substitute. Not real hope, but a cop-out.
Real hope is the embodiment of the Real Love who set us free from fear, death, and selfish ambition. Real hope is knowing this world is so much more than we see. Real hope is the God who never rests from the holy work of redeeming, restoring, and healing the broken through our hands and hearts, we who are called to be his image-bearers, love-givers, grace-carriers, life-changers, truth-tellers, and hope-bringers full of action and not a single. empty. word.
Jesus didn’t tell the centurior, the blind beggar, the paralyzed man on the mat, “I hope you are healed.” He didn’t look at Peter, James, and John and mutter under his breath, “I hope someone does something about that.”
No–he was their hope. He embodied real hope when he met their need, healed their brokenness, changed their situation. He acted with power and he tells ust hat we have the same power to meet needs, heal brokenness, change situations, and bring real hope (not empty words and blind eye) to all of creation.
This world needs real hope. Will you offer it with your hands and heart? Or will you continue on the easy and well-trodden path of cheap hope and empty words?
For a United Methodist perspective…
Sarah Bessey’s post is filled with ways to help and engage…