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Finding Room At The Table

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

A Native American storyteller, having enthralled his audience with tales of the creation, summed up the saga with, “That may not be the way it happened but it is true.”  That’s my take on the Bible.  The truth within the message is the message and details shrouded in the cultural mores and understanding of the time – and distorted in translation – are irrelevant.

Jesus’ message was and is, quite simply, love, peace and justice.  While he turned inside out many of the understood truths of Jewish law and custom, through his life and example he consecrated one, the love of others – all others.  That beautiful commandment, to love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself, is one tough law; Christ’s life, one tough act to follow.

But there it is.  The question is what are we, as Christians,* going to do about it?  How are we to apply it to the tumult of modern life, obey it when it challenges, even threatens, everything we cling to, claim as our just reward and right?

Jesus walked with, shared his life with, opened himself to society’s outcasts.  He found room for them at the table, brought them into community, offered them new life – and he didn’t check their credentials or count the number of loaves and fish available to share.

Which brings us to the current rush to sanctify injustice by barricading America’s borders, denying medical care and education to “illegals,” punishing those who hire them, protecting our wallets and way of life – and to justify it all, often in terms of superiority with some variation of “My father came to this country from (pick a country) legally.”  Hagridden predictions of the destruction of the American way of life generally follow, usually in financial terms.  It’s not a matter of counting loaves and fish but of hoarding them, of rendering sacrosanct the sin of injustice.

A friend recently pointed out that Jesus said “The poor you always have with you,” adding that, like the man who could not give away his wealth and follow Jesus, we cannot do what God would do and citing the dire consequences he foresaw “if we did as Jesus asked and simply welcomed the foreigner.”

My problem with this is simply that I can’t seem to say, “if we do what Jesus asked…” but am, instead, fixated on “when…”

In his sermon/Connecting Voices article, “The New Jerusalem,” SCNC Conference Minister Félix Villanueva said, “How quickly we forget!  Welcoming the poor and the tired, no matter where they come from, has been part of our “national DNA” since the beginning.

“For Christians this is an even more powerful mandate.  The Bible goes into great detail to explain why welcoming and loving the “alien in our midst” is fundamental to our faith. “…We live in a time of rampant individualism. As the Church we need to stand for the value of community.  At a time of intense consumerism we insist it is not what we have but how we treat one another that counts.  At a time of growing isolation we remind our nation of its responsibility to the broader world, to pursue peace, to welcome immigrants, to protect the lives of hurting children and refugees.   At a time when the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer we insist the moral test of our society is how we treat and care for the weakest among us.  We are to be fearless in our witness to the New Jerusalem God is about to inaugurate.

“We are one people, all children of God.  Ethnicity, economic class or gender do not matter.  The Apostle Paul says that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28).  To those who limit God’s lavish love, who see themselves as morally upright, the Gospel of Matthew says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (5:45).  Whether gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, Christian or Wiccan, wealthy entrepreneur whom you envy or beggar on the street who repulses you, remember that in the Book of Acts Paul quotes a pagan poet to affirm that every person is God’s “offspring” (Acts 17:28).

“The question for us then is:  How can we love one another, care for one another and proclaim the Good News, especially when our faith includes the stranger and the immigrant?  I don’t have the political answer for that challenge, but I believe our Christian faith is quite clear in this respect:  We are to provide shelter, support and love to the migrants in our midst.  We are to fight for the rights of those who are exploited, marginalized and singled out as subjects of discrimination.  Christ has called us, his Church, to be the voices of these, our brothers and sisters.  God is not a God of partiality or favoritism.  God warmly welcomes every person from any nation. Let’s go out and do the same!”

Donna Schaper, Senior Minister at New York City’s Judson Memorial Church, put it this way, “Remember the prayer ‘Come Lord Jesus be our Guest and let thy gifts to us be blessed?’ Who is the host here and who the guest?  Paul doesn’t help when he talks about needing the Spirit to understand the gifts God gives us.  Instead he hints that we may be missing something.

“Hosts are often more powerful than guests. In many congregations the old timers host the newcomers. We host immigrant guests or ‘native’ Americans and tell them what language to speak and how to behave at our table.  My congregation used to give cooking lessons to Italian immigrants in the 1890’s!  Instead, Jesus has donkey ways; he enters our city as a guest, alerting us that we are each hosts and guests, givers and receivers, in the Spirit. The route to ending racism is here:  It is receiving the gifts of the ones we imagine are only impoverished.  We will need the full Spirit to fully understand who is who and who is really the “Hostess with the Mostest.”

I’ve been told that my belief of not following Jesus in this is morally indefensible is an emotional one.  No argument there.  And that I don’t have a plan to “make it work.”  True again.  I have, however, a conviction that we can and must find a better way, must reject laws with the potential for profiling and dehumanizing, must challenge the perception that it is somehow ethical to deny sustenance, health and dignity to “the least of these” – and have a willingness to work and, yes, sacrifice, toward that end.

Let’s find room at the table!


*Written from a Christian perspective but with the awareness that justice and caring for others are universal ideals.

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