The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Who among us has not seen the picture of the 3 year old boy, either face down in the sand on the beach in Greece, or being carried by a Greek soldier in his arms. In the pictures that capture the Syrian crisis, we see infants like this one, or sleeping in their parents arms, unaware of the danger around them. It is especially heart-breaking when one sees images of children dead, or crying in fear as they’re being pushed back by soldiers, or sleeping on the sidewalk of a railway station, or even being handed over, lifted up to safety, out of an inflatable boat in which their family members and others reside. They are fleeing from one country to the next in perilous journeys to freedom, 20 million refugees, half of whom are children. What choices do these people have? Whether or not they stay or whether or not they leave their country, they are at risk. And while the issues and solutions may be complex, the heartbreak is not.
Jesus was teaching his disciples and found them arguing about who was going to be the greatest among them. They had all left family and jobs to follow Jesus, and they expected some benefits; unfortunately, Jesus broke their revolutionary bubble. Whoever follows me, follows me to death, he said. Whoever follows me carries the crosses of human pain and suffering, even if it is not their own. Whoever follows me welcomes children with open arms, which means they are welcoming God.
I don’t think Jesus meant for his disciples to welcome children with open arms into our churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples, although that’s a good thing to do. I don’t think he meant that we should all sit down and get on eye level with children who inhabit our holy places. I don’t think Jesus meant that we are especially great when we wrap our arms of love around our own children or those who look just like us. I think Jesus meant something far more dangerous, far more risky, and far more courageous.
I think Jesus was calling us to prophetic action - that the greatest people are people who serve the least by being vulnerable themselves, who challenge their own institutional systems, and protect the children of God regardless of their age. I think Jesus was calling us to be willing to destabilize our lives, our churches, and our countries in thoughtful, just, and merciful ways in order to help God’s children.
I won’t presume to wrestle with the complicated issues of migration and immigration which are happening for various reasons throughout our world. People and animals are shifting, moving, and fleeing from one place to another in search of a better life, or just plain life. I don’t presume to offer any answers or solutions, for there are many; although Episcopal Migration Ministries is one resource to consult.
What I do know is that we must first start with ourselves, breaking down the borders of fear in our own hearts by breaking down the boundaries between human and divine Love. Prayer helps us to do that; and for Christians that border crossing came in the person of Jesus. As St. James’ said in his letter, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.” (James 3: 17-18)
The children of our world, the generations that are with us now, will take their lessons from our responses to human suffering and need. Boundaries and borders are important, and fences make good neighbors; but many of our systems need to be fixed, perhaps even rebuilt. Destabilization and disorientation can help us see solutions from fresh perspectives.
Remembering that Jesus was a Jew of Aramaic descent helps us to see the arms of Jesus as someone who came from many countries and cultures, perhaps different from ours. Remembering that we are all beloved children of God helps us get into the inflatable boat with others. Remembering that Jesus was the Light of the World can help us to navigate our rubber rafts and rescue boats in that mission to overcome darkness and death.
Will we choose paths of dispute, conflict, and self-protection , or will we open our arms of welcome to the children of God? to the least of these, regardless of their age? to their tribe, regardless of their practices? to their language, even if we don’t understand it? and to their nation, even if we disagree with their politics? Jesus “stretched out his arms of love on the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.” For the sake of our souls and our world, let the children come.