“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” That alone should tell us a lot about that road. The Jericho road doesn’t just exist in Jesus’ time. We have a lot of Jericho roads in this town, in this state, and in this country. It may not be called Jericho road, but it is. It is often the line between the have and the have-nots. It is the line between barely getting by and barely living. It is the line between a school with enough supplies for each child and a school filled with asbestos, mold, and the majority receiving free lunch. It is the road that no real estate agent wants to sell or buy on. It is the road that gets the most calls to 911. It is the road that comes with stigma. “Oh you live on the Jericho road?” and then people think they know your story. “In many cities, Jericho road is called ‘Martin Luther King Boulevard’” (Traci Blackmon). Here are some versions of our Jericho roads: International Boulevard, the crossing between McAllen, Texas and Mexico. El Paso Road, the crossing between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Virginia Avenue, the crossing between San Diego and Tijuana. So many places that we hear about on the news. The stories of cages, camps, crying babies, separated families, laws and regulations, imigration, and honestly, a lot of confusion.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the situation at the border. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to believe. What I see on the news is disturbing. I might even go as far to say that what I’ve seen is inhumane. I know that the majority of the asylum seeking people that arrive at our borders do so in the hope of escaping trauma and violence in their home cities or countries. Some arrive at our borders, much like our ancestors did, hoping for a better life, better opportunities, better everything. The reality is that the stories of drug and human trafficking do happen, but so less often than you might think. The other reality is that no wall, no immigration policy, no law will ever stop drug and human trafficking. It’s a sad reality.
I also believe that a path to citizenship should be easier than it is. We will always have a Jericho road. If it isn’t immigration, it will be something else. “Jericho road is a place that requires personal risk” (ibid). A priest and a Levite both passed by the man. They both saw him, it tells us that in the text. They purposefully chose to ignore a man who was laying on the side of the road, naked, beaten up, probably bruised and bleeding, maybe not even conscious. And along comes the Samaritan who himself knows what it is like to be ignored, forgotten, avoided, and shunned. He has nothing to lose. Jericho road is a place that requires personal risk and the Samaritan had nothing to lose. The priest and the Levite, they had plenty to risk and chose not to. I relate all too well to the priest and the Levite. I want to think I am the Samaritan. But, when it comes to putting myself on the line, I become selectively blind.
As I said, I’ve become overwhelmed by the situation at the border. I don’t want to turn away, but the problem seems so large that I wonder what I, a single person, can do about it. The Samaritan could have ignored the situation on Jericho road and chose not to. I wonder what the Samaritan would do on International Boulevard, El Paso Road, or Virginia Avenue? Would the Samaritan be able to ignore the cries? The stench? The filth? The look of frustration, worry, and exhaustion on the faces of immigration enforcement officers? Might the Samaritan be arrested for civil disobedience for offering water at the border? What would happen to the Samaritan if he or she showed up to refugee camps with boxes of toothbrushes, socks, soap, or deodorant? Here’s the thing, my beloved: I am willing to put a lot on the line with what I am about to say. You can believe what you choose to believe about immigration. It’s not as cut and dry as we try to make it. But, I cannot claim to be a Christian, live into my baptismal promises, or live into my ordination vows and believe that what is happening at the border is remotely okay. Crossing a border should not alienate a person’s humanitarian rites. Crossing a border, any border, does not turn a human into an animal. The cost of keeping our country safe, which we have a right to do, should not come at the cost of treating other human beings like they are less than. It should not come at the cost of turning every single road on our borders into a Jericho Road.
Who is our neighbor? The one who is suffering and at the same time, the one who is celebrating. Our neighbor is the friendly farmer down the road that rents land from us. Our neighbor is the kid who is the first in his family to go to college. Our neighbor is the cute kid next door trying to sell us more wrapping paper, again. Our neighbor is the addict who is clean, for now. Our neighbor is the prostitute desiring a better life if leaving didn’t mean being beaten by her pimp. Our neighbor is child sent from Guatemala to our borders hoping to escape gang violence. Our neighbor is all of these people and then some, the ones we choose not to see. Our neighbor is Jesus and he walks the Jericho Road, the same road we try to avoid at all cost.
Christ calls us to show mercy. I don’t know what that looks like to you. All of us have our own definitions of mercy. For me, it’s becoming aware of my own biases and prejudices. For me, showing mercy is contacting my elected officials on a semi-regular basis. Showing mercy means seeking out the true stories and not just relying on one news source. Showing mercy means looking into the eyes of someone I do not agree with and seeing God. Showing mercy means daring to take the Jericho Road knowing that it is I that will be changed and not me changing the road. What Christ is calling us all to is a life that involves risk. Loving someone that others would rather leave for dead is a risk. Opening ourselves up to love is a risk. Following Christ is a risk. But from what I can tell, Christ also makes it abundantly clear what we are to be doing. When we dare ask questions like “what must I do to inherit eternal life” then we must be willing to accept the answers, even if we don’t like them and even if they make us uncomfortable. All of the other commandments kind of filter down into this one: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Love without action is wasted grace.
The Jericho Road isn’t about our charitable intentions, it’s about real, life changing transformations. The question shouldn’t be “what will I gain if I act” but rather “what will others lose if I don’t?” Are you able to see the divine in the other and more importantly are others able to see the divine in you? Often our faith is about fork-in-the-road kind of moments. One way appears to be the easy way, the way filled with good intentions, thoughts, and prayers. The other way is the Jericho Road. It’s unknown, filled with unknown people, and a bit of a risk. But, guess which road Christ is pointing us to? Guess on which road Christ will meet us? In the cross, we weren’t promised a life of ease and comfort. We were promised a life of Immanuel, Christ with us.Christ with all of us.