A young man I met in Chiapas, Mexico, voiced a brave request: “Can you help me get to ‘el Norte’ (the North)?”
“El Norte” is what many in Mexico call the U.S. The dire poverty in his village was an obvious reason for his desire to migrate to the U.S.
I was dumbfounded by his upfront plea but managed to ask, “Why do you want to go to the U.S.?”
With a blend of sadness and hope, he said, “I was working in Cancun, but I made barely enough to pay my rent and buy my food. I couldn’t help my family. I missed them so much that I decided to come back. I know that over there (in the U.S.) I’ll make enough to help my family.”
Certain that he had dreams, I probed deeper, “If money wasn’t an issue, what would you do with your life?”
His eyes got teary; his jaw started to tremble. I had struck a nerve.
“I’d be a biologist,” he responded. “There are so many medicinal plants that could help a lot of people, yet we don’t know how to use them.”
Poverty, injustice and lack of opportunity shatter lives and dreams. This young man is only one of millions across the globe who see migration as their only hope in the search of a better future.
In our global interconnected neighborhood, every day we are flooded with an unceasing stream of news about the oppressive realities afflicting people everywhere: violence, injustice, poverty and disasters.
It is in this context that Christ calls and sends us to show grace and love to our neighbors – local and global.
Yet, these tragedies, rather than passionately propelling us to share God’s love, may tend to either numb us or push us, in fear, to insulate ourselves for our own security.
After all, what can we do for the wounded and hurting people across the world? And does God really expect us to care for the needs of others?
In his famous parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus offers some light.
Luke says that a religious expert raised a tricky question to draw from Jesus an answer suggesting that one could “inherit eternal life” while bypassing the law (Luke 10:25). But Jesus didn’t take the bait; he threw the question back to him.
In his answer, the lawyer quoted the great commandment (Luke 10:27).Jesus commended his answer and challenged him, “Do it and you’ll live.”
Attempting to justify himself, he pressed, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
For first-century Israelites, a neighbor was a fellow Jew. So, the purpose of his question was to make a clear distinction between who was and who was not a neighbor – who was within and without his reach of love.
But Jesus didn’t play his game. Instead, he outwitted him by telling a dramatic story with a surprising plot twist that would have scandalized the lawyer and those listening with him.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” (Luke 10:30). Travelers passing through this 17-mile treacherous and dangerous route knew it was plagued with thieves hiding in the caves along the road. Robbers stripped the man of his clothing, beat and left him half-dead at the side of the road.
Fortunately, help was on the way. A priest and a Levite were going down the same road. But when presented with the opportunity to practice their faith, they chose to elude it (Luke 10:31-32).
Perhaps they feared being prevented from performing their temple duties, which would have occurred should they have had contact with a dead man. If that’s the case, such fear was baseless. Because they were “going down,” we could assume they had already served their duties and were heading home.
The unfolding story shocked the original listeners and they likely wondered what would happen next. Jesus surprised them with an entirely unexpected hero: a half-breed, despised foreigner, a Samaritan.
When the Samaritan saw the man, he had a gut-wrenching experience (Luke 10:33) and was moved to action. He cared for the man and generously provided from his own resources to make sure the man had a place to recover (Luke 10:34).
While the religious men avoided, the outcast saw, felt and served.
Jesus shredded the lawyer’s prejudiced, limited view of neighbor; Jesus called and challenged everyone listening to bestow the love and grace they had lavishly received to anyone anywhere.
The needs in our world are so overwhelming that we run the risk of becoming unresponsive and impervious. But when we walk by faith, the Spirit gives us the ability to see what matters most to God’s heart.
Jesus’ story makes crystal-clear that God expects you and me, as his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), to intentionally break through ethnic, cultural and religious barriers to show his mercy to serve those in need across the street and across the world.
Juan Aragon is the Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA. A version of this article first appeared in the February-March 2017 edition of The West Virginia Baptist newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @jaragongarcia.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on local churches / Christian organizations and immigration.
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