AM Psalm 56, 57, 58 PM Psalm 64, 65 Isaiah 51:17-23; Galatians 4:1-11
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset, gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-Emma Lazarus, 18831
Mother of Exiles cries today. She cries with the children who are denied sanctuary from a war-torn homeland. She cries with permanent residents blocked from returning to their homes. She cries with all those shocked by the immigration restrictions in place and the ever-growing threat of deportation for so many.
“Let the children be fed first,
for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
To me these words would be far less surprising coming in the proclamation of an incumbent politician, contemporary spokesperson, or even the well-meaning and often erroneous disciples. It is certainly a shock to hear these words spoken by Jesus himself. If ever we need proof that Jesus was fully human- this could very well be it.
I imagine he’s tired from his journey. After all, with no bus or car or plane to hop in, travel was neither comfy nor convenient. And he’s likely worn out from teaching and healing. He just wants to be left alone.
But, any illusion Jesus has of being unnoticed in this place quickly dissolves as, once again, he is called upon to cast out a demon. Perhaps it’s due to exhaustion or perhaps there is some other cause, but Jesus doesn’t respond to this woman’s plea with his usual compassion. This time, his response is just plain mean!
It’s in this moment of weakness, that a pertinent lesson comes from an unlikely teacher.
I find it comforting that, initially, Jesus isn’t the compassionate healer that we’ve come to expect; that he needed teachers along his journey of ministry; and that this story doesn’t end with insult and misery. Jesus’ interaction with this woman is sending us a very clear message. Especially in a moment when our country is speaking this same message to the rest of the world.
We don’t know what it is specifically about this woman’s challenge that touches Jesus and it really doesn’t matter.
Jesus changes his mind.
His heart breaks open pouring out compassion and love on this woman and her child. In his moment of weakness, Jesus is transformed.
And, I believe it’s the same for us.
Perhaps in these past few years of experiencing direct or indirect pain and suffering from the terrorism taking place both abroad and at home, the safety of your self, your family, and your home have taken priority. Perhaps this desire for security has caused you to respond to the plea of refugees and immigrants with a sentiment similar to the initial reaction of Jesus. Perhaps the promise of closing our borders legally and physically is comforting to you. These are very natural reactions to a sense of threat and vulnerability.
Or, perhaps you are joining with others to protest the new restrictions. Perhaps you are giving voice to Mother of Exiles crying out, “ Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” Perhaps you are reaching out to your petrified neighbors and friends with gestures of solidarity and protection.
Either way, we all experience times when we are tired and frustrated, when we just don’t feel like being helpful or nice, and when we would rather just be left alone. And, it’s then that the unlikely teachers in our lives, the ones that we might not even notice otherwise, challenge us to change our minds; to open our hearts to greater depths of God’s compassion and love.
And, in a moment of weakness, we are transformed.
1Written as part of a fundraising effort for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, this sonnet is now engraved on a bronze plaque displayed inside the statue.
Sarah Brock is a postulant in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.
Image Credit: Statue of Liberty, NYC, NY from Wikimedia