Illegal Boat People

Originally posted on the Network Leeds blog here.

Government makes a decree, like Knut on the beach, which says ‘These are illegal immigrants’. But they are human beings seeking life. Is any creature and child of God, ‘illegal’?

If God lets down from heaven a great sample of all his creatures and says, Rise and eat, shall we say with Peter, No Lord, they are illegal: I have never eaten anything ‘worldly or unclean’ (Acts 10.14)?

    And if God says: ‘What God has cleansed you must not call profane and unacceptable’, what then will we answer?

Does a government’s definition of people as ‘illegal’ justify closing our ears to the cry of their being? Do they have ‘no case’, no right to appeal, like blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46-52) who was told to shut up when he disturbed the peace, crying out for help: if he would not respect the border, the crowd would defend it by keeping him on his gutter side of it.   Contrariwise, as ever, Jesus practised his own teaching: ‘Give to him who asks of you and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you’ (Matt.5.42;10.7,8;14,16) – good for Bartimaeus, good for all of us if we can take the point.

Is government right whatever it decides? In reality, British governments feel insecure: we do not need 1649 to remind us how ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’. Regular elections give the same message, more gently, with words rather than the axe. The words, “In the name of God, go!” echo through our parliamentary history.

Government craves support, making the people complicit, but it only gets support through a flawed and disproportionate electoral process, leaving people with a let out: ‘Not in my name’. Nevertheless, people cannot avoid sharing the costs, guilts, and pains of government along with its successes.

Jesus does not give easy comfort to people who share responsibility for governing, whether as office-holders or as tax-paying citizens. Regretfully, self-servingly, government excuses itself, pushing difficult issues into long grass, because sometimes we the people judge there is no alternative to leaving Bartimaeus in his gutter, and deporting ‘illegals’ off our patch and off our agenda, as our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4.9-10). It is beyond our power to ‘give to those who ask’:  there is no room left in our inn. Jesus must excuse us: we are practical, not to be carried away by his wokery*.

Some in our secularized country live comfortably, undisturbed by the clues Jesus gives for our living. In church, some hear his words only to chisel them to our culture and calculated convenience. And there are faithful servants and witnesses, in and beyond church, who give the seed fertile ground with sacrificial courage, clarity, and love (Luke 8.1-15).

*wokery: ‘a way of referring to the acts and opinions of people who are especially aware of social problems such as racism and inequality, used by people who do not approve of these acts and opinions’  (Cambridge Dictionary). 

For discussion:  Is Jesus woke?  So what? ​​

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