Note: This year will be the sixth annual Holy Week Pilgrimage for Immigrants, an act of faith, solidarity, and hospitality; it is a prayer with feet. With our feet we pray that our faith communities and nation will search for ways that favor a spirit of solidarity with and justice for immigrants. We walk by a faith that transcends borders and bids us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we may build relationships that are just and loving.
Then they brought it [the colt] to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it… As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
LUKE 19:35, 37-40
THE OFFERING OF THE CLOAKS
Last year I never had an immigrant offer me a donation for Alterna or the pilgrimage but during this year’s pilgrimage it’s happened a few times already. Offerings of food and money as expressions of appreciation for my simple act of solidarity.
I’ve had this encounter with immigrants many times over the last four years. “¿Cuánto le debo?” “How much do I owe you?”
Owe me? What do you owe me? You work at low wages in sweatshops in your home country as well as in our factories and fields in this country; all so that I can pay a big box a low price. What makes you think you owe me???
I don’t want to further strip an immigrant of his/her dignity by not receiving a gift given in gratitude. Therefore, I am accepting the gifts with joy (especially when it’s a meal whose recipe originates from Latin America!) and, if it’s financial, I promise to pass the gift along to others in need for that is the economics of the King on a colt.
PRAISING THE BLESSED KING JOYFULLY WITH A LOUD VOICE
The worshipers of the kingdom of this world have no problem shouting. In 2003 I tried to help organize a rally for peace – a subversive act I now know. In the newspaper, a worshiper of the kingdom of this world was determined to organize a counter-rally to, as he put it, “shout ‘em down!” I was one of “’em.”
Worshipers of leisure have no problem shouting either. When the now-ousted University of Northern Iowa pulls off an amazing upset in the NCAA basketball tournament, folks shout to their televisions, to their friends, and even to a virtual world on facebook (where I learned of this).
We love to praise things joyfully in a loud voice… but, in the end, what does it matter?
As we leave another Palm Sunday in the memories of our past, I wonder if the hosannas we sang joyfully and with a loud voice meant anything. What does it mean to sing hosanna to a poor, unskilled laborer, a refugee/migrant who rode into Jerusalem on a colt that may have even been stolen (re-read the text and judge for yourself) when we live lives of privilege in one of the wealthiest nations in the history of this planet? What does it mean to call Jesus “king” or “lord” today when it’s original meaning was treasonous to the ears of Roman emperors? Is it possible for 21st century folks, especially those of us from the Global North, to truly understand and know the radical implications of following this lowly King?
I am convinced more than ever that Jesus fiercely loves us all but I am equally convicted of the thesis that He has a preferential option for of the poor. And while Jesus does say, “woe to you who are rich,” I think, ultimately, this good news is not limited to the poor but is also a means of redemption for those of us impoverished or possessed by our possessions. Think of Nicodemus and how the good news for the poor became his good news too!
This blessed King invites us to join His processional of joy; one where we delight in laying down our cloaks and picking up our towels and basins without fear.
UNMASKING THE FEAR OF THE PHARISEES
Mark jumped out of his vehicle and began snapping photos of the pilgrims as we walked down Grayson Highway. I was at the back of the processional so it took me a while before I could understand what he was shouting.
“How’s it feel to be marching with felons?!?!”
Perplexed, I wondered “how he could tell if there were felons in our midst?” I approached Mark and gently corrected his erroneous assumption. If he was referring to unauthorized immigrants as felons, the laws regulating immigration are civil laws and not even misdemeanors much less felonies.
The conversation was a wonderful exercise in nonviolent communication. As Mark continued to tell me all his fears of immigrants, how granting “amnesty” would unravel democracy, change our language, flood our jails and hospitals; I felt compassion for this man and really wanted to find common ground.
Gwinnett County has changed a great deal over the past thirty years. I know because my family relocated to this north metro Atlanta county in 1980 and I recall being in a very small minority of persons who weren’t white. Now, immigrants from all corners of the world – Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere – are lining up the streets with new businesses that seem strange to the homegrown Gwinettians. Change brings fear and I sensed Mark was afraid.
I kept reminding myself that only perfect love casts out fear. I responded to Mark’s apprehensive and, at times, irrational statements with reason, theological reflection, and empathy…
Seeking common ground.
MARK: 30% of California’s prison population are illegals.
ANTON: While I would love to see that number verified, I wonder what percentage of folks living in California is undocumented. Could it possibly also be 30%? I know that, for example, the New York Times estimates that 90% of California’s farm labor is unauthorized immigrants. What if 30% was a proportionate number? Now, we do have a crisis along color lines… African Americans are disproportionately filling our jails for complex reasons that have more to do with disparity than citizenship. How would you explain that and what would you propose we do about this sad reality? Can we, at least, agree that the problems are more complex than sound bite and extremist propaganda on the right or left?
MARK: I do not appreciate you co-opting Holy Week with your political ploy to convert illegals into voters for the Democratic Party.
ANTON: I am simply seeking to follow Jesus Christ who calls us to welcome the stranger, love the poor, and show hospitality to the oppressed.
MARK: You ever heard the term “social justice”?
ANTON: You must be a fan of Glenn Beck. Can we find some common ground? Across the street is a Church of God next to a Catholic parish. While their theological differences abound, I bet they can find common ground. Let me ask you a few questions in search of where we agree… Would you agree that most unauthorized immigrants have a deep faith?
ANTON: Would you agree that most unauthorized immigrants are hard workers?
ANTON: Would you agree that most unauthorized immigrants share many of the conservative values that you espouse? Heck, I bet 99% of the pilgrims would stand right beside you and Glenn Beck on a “right to life” rally.
His statements of fear and dehumanization continued but his anger subsided. He told me he was a seminary graduate; I encouraged him to attend an immigrant church and to worship God alongside those he feared, fully believing that the perfect love of Jesus and that of God within each immigrant worshiper that he would encounter could help Mark cross the walls constructed in his heart.
At the end we exchanged email addresses and he even offered me a ride to rejoin the pilgrimage… Imagine the pilgrimage that he protested because of our social justice, political agenda!
WE CAN’T BE SILENT!
Love must compel us to shout joyfully the truth of Christ and his love for all, especially the oppressed and exploited unauthorized immigrants who hide in the shadows of our capitalist economy.
Love is the impulse that allowed Jesus to migrate from his place of celestial power to take on the form of a third-class servant who rode an ass and withstood the insults of those who feared him. We must follow in His steps.
Silence is complicity and fear is its accomplice.