I don’t know about you, but that photo of the drowned dad and toddler has crushed me. The stories and debate surrounding walls, camps, cages, and immigrants have been a bit overwhelming for me. Should we build a wall? Should everyone be allowed into the United States? How would Jesus solve these problems?
In Jesus’ time, religious leaders would ask similar questions and get in similar debates over laws and semantics. There is a particular moment where Jesus asked a simple question that gives us a place to calibrate around as we form and evaluate our opinions. Let’s take a look:
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”…
…44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?
A bit of background:
First, a Pharisee was an expert in the Jewish Bible, which laid out the laws and rules for their society. Their Bible (the first five books of our Bible) was their constitution. The Pharisees were among the most powerful and privileged people of the day. They were the “haves” of that society and got to decide who was “in” and who was “out”.
Also, the woman who lived a “sinful life” was almost certainly a prostitute. Jewish laws of the day would have prevented Jesus to touch or be touched by her; lest he become “unclean”.
The story says that this woman drapes herself on Jesus’ feet, she breaks open what would have certainly been her most valuable possession to honor him, kisses his feet in humility… this woman somehow knew Who Jesus was!
Simon the Pharisee approaches the situation from a different angle. He sees the rules and semantics first. This woman has broken the rules. According to the rules, her mere presence is bad for the house! She ruins the cleanliness that he has worked hard to establish. Her actions have brought her to a “sinful” state, which means her being in his house and near his clean body is a problem. Does Jesus not realize this? “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus’ response gives us an important cornerstone as we form opinions and policies concerning “illegals” and immigrants desperate to get into our country.
Simon, “Do you see this woman?
Of course, Simon saw her in a literal sense. He obviously noticed quite a bit about her. So what is Jesus asking? He’s asking Simon to evaluate what he was actually looking at. Simon saw her in the context of what was good for his house. She was seen as a problem because she was not good for his spiritual health, or so he thought. Simon wasn’t incorrect in his assessment of the situation, she was a sinful woman. Simon erred in losing sight of her humanity. He erred by thinking she was excluded because of the lifestyle she represented and what she was running from. He didn’t really see HER!
As we talk through the very difficult issues of immigration, I think the number one thing we need to ask is, “Do I see them?” Do you see this father? Do you see this child? As hard as it is… as inconvenient as it is… as disturbing as it is… (I’d much rather watch my boys play travel baseball in my suburban paradise without the distracting images of drowned children!) When there is someone desperate for help, I MUST force myself to at least see them. I must look at their pain. Look at what they’re running away from. I must first find the image of God in their eyes.
Then, and only then, will I see clearly enough to begin to form an opinion about what can and should be done to help.
I know one more thing: Debates over semantics don’t help… they only distract us from seeing human beings. Are they “concentration camps”? A lively debate! By defining terms and clarifying semantics, all we are really doing is avoiding their eyes. If my son was scared to death, alone and afraid, sleeping on a concrete floor, I would not be interested in a debate about whether it was technically a concentration camp or whether it had happened first during other administrations! That’s all just evidence that we don’t really see them.
I don’t have the answers! Jesus does tell us where to start from though.