…the prescribed reading for today (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20) is a little strange because it is chopped up into pieces…and leaves out several verses that to most ears sound more than a little judgmental. Without the omitted verses is a difficult reading that is seeming bereft of “Good News”. So, as is often the case when we deliver bad news, I’m going to ask you to sit down and take a few deep breathes. ….ready?
…the text continues with Jesus saying to the 72: “If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say, “We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near. I tell you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than the fate of such a town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! And woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes! It will go easier on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. As for you, Capernam, will you exalt yourself to the skies? No, you’ll be hurled down to Hades! Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the ONE who sent me.”
Jesus has sent out seventy-two of his followers to proclaim that the reign of God is near. Two by two those who have learned at Jesus’ feet are sent to proclaim a new way of being in the world. Furthermore, Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the world with nothing, no knapsack, no sandals, and perhaps more importantly, with no purse; no money with which to provide the essentials. Like lambs Jesus sends his followers into the midst of wolves.
Lambs in the midst of wolves is a strange metaphor. I know a thing or two about lambs. I helped to tend a flock of sheep for about 8 years. While there were no wolves in the area, there were coyotes, and I can tell you that no self-respecting shepherd would expose vulnerable lambs to wolves. Jesus would make a crappy shepherd. Leaders are supposed to protect the ones they lead. Yet here, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Luke, has crafted a story that casts Jesus in the role of a reckless leader who demands an equally reckless vulnerability from his followers.
What we know about the gospel-storyteller that we call Luke is that he wrote close to the end of the first century. Some 50 to 60 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth; a time when the full force of the mighty Roman Empire was being brought to bear upon the Jewish people and upon the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. During this time both Jews and followers of the Way lived in fear for their lives. The very idea of venturing out into the world would have struck fear into the hearts of all those who knew the ferocious power of the Roman Empire. Wolves would have seemed timid when compared to Rome’s cruelty. Yet, in our story Jesus sends his followers like lambs into the midst of wolves? Totally unprepared. Totally vulnerable. Totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who this story characterizes as wolves.
Now, I will confess that all this week, as I was studying this text, I saw myself as a lamb. But I have to say that this story didn’t make much sense to me until I began to see myself as one of the wolves. It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a lamb. Images of myself as a small child, a wee little lamb, helpless and vulnerable were easy to conjure up. Memories of my own childhood migration from Belfast to Canada reminded me of the ways in which my own family depended upon the kindness of strangers when we arrived in a strange land. I don’t really think my Mum and Dad were very well prepared for the journey that we undertook as a family. But thanks to all the help we received from the people who had gone before us and the strangers we met here in Canada, we did all right.
Here’s a picture of my little brother Alan and I playing at Wasaga Beach under the watchful eye of our Father. This photograph was taken in 1968. We hadn’t been in Canada for very long. We thought of ourselves as immigrants, not refugees. But in all honesty if not for our white skin and our British citizenship there isn’t much difference between our fleeing Belfast just as the Troubles were heating up and those who are flocking to our shores these days as economic refugees. My Dad could never have given us the life we enjoyed in Belfast. We came here for the opportunities that Canada’s wealth offered us. Just look at us, barely arrived in this country. We came with nothing. Dad only had a few dollars in his pocket and the promise of a job. We didn’t know anyone. This picture was taken not long after we arrived. My Dad is leaning on our brand-new car and we are enjoying a day on the beach. As unprepared little lambs go, my brother and I are doing pretty well in this picture.
Now juxtapose this picture on the beach with another, one taken just last week. Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramireze and his 23-month old daughter Angie Valeria Ramireze, did not enjoy the benefits that my family and I enjoyed. As Citizens of El Salvador, fleeing both violence and poverty, there was no country with an immigration policy that was willing to welcome them.
Last week the CBC released the results of a survey which showed that there has been a “Drastic decline in welcoming of refugees” among Canadians. 64% said illegal immigration is becoming a serious problem. 57% said that Canada should not be accepting more refugees. 76% agreed that Canada should do more to encourage skilled labourers to immigrate. Thanks to the rhetoric that crosses our borders from the United States many Canadians are leaning toward policies that would see us reduce the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants to this country.
There is a rising perception out there that our Canadian border is being inundated by asylum seekers. This despite the fact that illegal border crossings in the first quarter of this year are down 48% over last year. 2018 was a peak year for refugee border crossings. Less than 20,000 in 2018 – In the first quarter of 2019 there have been less than 2,500. Of all the asylum seekers who have crossed into Canada since Jan of 2017 only 4,514 have been granted status and 27,727 cases are pending.
Since I was blessed to become a Canadian citizen, I have travelled the length and breadth of this massive country and I can tell you that this big beautiful country is empty. Indeed, right now at this very moment there are nine towns that are currently giving away free land. Our population is an aging population and the experts in the field tell us that we will need to encourage immigration in order to have enough workers paying taxes so that we can all be taken care of in our old age. Demographically, Canada needs more people; many more people than our birth-rates can supply. So, why are Canadians becoming less willing to accept refugees?
Oscar and little Angie Valeria Ramireze didn’t make it to our boarder, they drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. But thousands have walked across our border, some of them loosing limbs as a result of frost-bite. The wolves in their homelands have driven them to take desperate measures. They have set off unprepared, relying on the hospitality of strangers.
Sadly, all too often these lambs have fled from one pack of wolves only to encounter another pack of wolves. When we circle around the issue of immigration, convinced that the most important issues are those of maintaining the status quo, we are the wolves.
The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Luke raises the scepter of the city of Sodom. For generations the Jewish people harboured the memories of the horrific destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel identified the sins of Sodom as the failure of the people of Sodom to care for or defend widows and orphans and not helping those in need. Contrary to what some interpretations would have you believe; the sins of Sodom were not about sex. According to the prophets, the depravity of the city of Sodom showed itself in their refusal to offer hospitality to the travelers who came to them needing shelter.[i]Instead of feeding and protecting them, the people of Sodom sought to exert their power over those seeking hospitality. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, it is made clear over and over again that the quality of a people is revealed by how they welcome travelers who have no resources.
I was reminded this week of a quote from 13thcentury mystic Meister Eckhart who insisted that “every creature in all of creation is in and of itself a word of God and is a book about God.” Every animal, every insect, every fish, and every human is a word of God and a book about God. If we want to know God, we need to look to those created by God. Oscar Ramireze was a book about God. Angie Valeria Ramireze as tiny as she was, was a book about God. Every weary traveler who flees here without any resources to care for themselves, everyone of them is a book about God.
Warsan Shire is a Somali migrant who grew up in London, her poem entitle “Home” is an expression of one of those books about God. She writes:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive
and you are greeted on the other side
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
I believe that at one time or another we are all lambs and sadly, too often we are also wolves. May we learn to know our God through the billions and billions of books about God.
There’s a definition of “spirituality” by Brene Brown that I love. “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.”
We can choose to listen the rhetoric that is seeping in from the United States. We can choose to listen to our own fears that there are too many of them, and not enough space, or resources here in Canada and huddle together like a pack of wolves to protect what is ours or worse yet attack those lambs who are ill prepared, to care for themselves. Or, we can choose to listen to the books about God, the books in the bible that insist that we offer hospitality and the books about God that we discover when we see the lambs who need our help to survive.
May the LOVE that IS God, shine through the pages and the faces of the books about God, so that we can recognize our ONEness with every creature we encounter in this abundant land of ours.
May we embrace our ONEness by practicing our spirituality; we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in LOVE through our acts compassion.
May we learn to take our place in the ONE great book of life through the LOVE that IS God. Amen.
[i]Richard W Swanson, Provoking the Gospel, www.provokingthegospel.wordpress.comJuly 7, 2019