“Dead Child,”Part of a Series entitled “Migrants”
Brazilian Painter, Candido Portinari (1903-1962)
The dead child lies across his mother’s lap. So the dead Jesus lies across his
mother’s lap in Michelangelo’s “Pieta.”
Portinari’s mother weeps and echoes Mary’s sorrow. The children standing around her weep. They are poor. They are weary. They are hungry. They are fleeing the unjust hardships of life in a forgotten corner of Brazil in 1944.
But they are also Mary and Joseph fleeing the wrath of Herod and hoping to find safe asylum in Egypt. They are also the Central American families who are fleeing the violence and injustice rampant in their homelands today. They too are poor, weary, and hungry. But they are following their dream, their hope of asylum, their hope of a new life of “liberty and justice for all” in the Land of the North.
Some of them will die along the way. They have braced themselves and are prepared for this reality. What they are not prepared for, however, is the reality they encounter when they reach the border of the Promised Land. They know they are entering illegally, but they nevertheless hope their voices will be heard, their cases judged with fairness and compassion. What they find instead is “Zero Tolerance.” On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a Zero Tolerance program, determining that all illegal immigrants are to be referred for “criminal prosecution.” Under this policy, children are not allowed to be with their parents, because the children are not charged with a crime, while the parents are. About 2,000 children have to date been separated from their parents.
The mothers weep. The fathers weep. The children weep. Mary weeps. Jesus weeps, his life re-lived in the life of each child torn from her parents.
Attorney General Sessions has used the Bible to defend this Zero Tolerance policy, quoting Romans 13, where we are admonished to be subject to the governing authorities. He seems not to have noticed, however, that he and the administration with which he works are the governing authorities here, and that they are not carrying out an already existing law but are the very ones who have created this policy, a policy shunned by former Republican and Democratic administrations alike. In quoting Romans 13, Mr. Sessons seems also not to have considered that, as a professing Christian, maybe he should take more seriously the directives of all of Scripture, notably Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, words or warning to all, but perhaps especially to those who are entrusted with the governance of their nations:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46.
“I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”