From his Good Friday Homily:
In Matthew's gospel, chapter 25, we learn that attaining the kingdom of heaven will depend on how well we welcomed the stranger. The stranger was Jesus in our midst. (Matt. 25:35- "I was a stranger and you welcomed me.") is the stranger suffering, lonely, or lost? That is Jesus suffering, lonely, and lost. From Jesus, especially from Jesus on the cross, we receive a summons to welcome the stranger when and as we can, to absorb the stranger into our community, when and as we can.
What length does this stranger go to receive a welcome from us? Economic conditions make the stranger go to extremes that occasionally result in death. Not long ago eleven decomposed bodies were found in a locked railroad car about 60 miles northwest of Omaha, Nebraska, in a town called Denison. The bodies were so badly decomposed it was difficult to determine whether the victims were men, women, or children. Bodies were found huddled together. There was no evidence of water or food inside, and the car was latched firmly on the outside. They couldn't escape a cruel, torturous death.
The railcar had left Matamoras, Mexico in the month of June and had been parked for a long time in Oklahoma before being brought to Denison, where the bodies were discovered. It was unclear whether the people had been smuggled or had hopped on the freight car themselves. It doesn't matter how they got there. We know why. They were looking for work, for a better life, for a livelihood. People in need of work to survive go to such extents just to survive.
People may argue, "they are here illegally from Mexico. Let other people worry about them. Let other people welcome them." but the Christian knows better. It was our lord who suffered and died in that freight car, as he suffered and died on Calvary. And he would want us to treat these people better. He would want us to find a way to address the plight they find themselves in.
He suffered and died to help suffering humanity.
We have many reasons to turn and walk away from this situation. These people are taking other people's jobs we may say. There is not enough work to keep them gainfully employed. Well, maybe but maybe not.
We might argue that we cannot possibly absorb this group of people. They will be on the welfare roles. They will be unproductive citizens. And yet in response to those legitimate concerns, don't they seem by their work habits to have answered those fears we may have about them already?
And what about the need for borders and protective measures against terrorist threats? Many of these people are here illegally. Obviously these concerns need serious attention and cannot be overlooked. But there are ways that are humane and fair that are being proposed in congress that can regulate what must be regulated. Borders between countries cannot be ignored, nor can the laws of a country. But the Judeo-Christian teaching about welcoming the stranger stands as a summons to be headed by all who take their Jewish and Christian faith seriously. This also seems to be a summons from the cross of Christ this Good Friday to us Christians of South Carolina, inviting us to respond to the plight of those who suffer great hardship, like the stranger in our midst.
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