545 children whose parents cannot be found.
545 children whose parents cannot be found because the United States government separated parent and child at the border.
545 children whose parents cannot be found because the United States government separated parent and child at the border in order to deter others from seeking refuge.
545 children whose parents cannot be found because the United States government separated parent and child at the border in order to deter others from seeking refuge from crime and violence and warfare and poverty.
In recent months, a conspiracy theory has moved through social media and into the lives of our neighbors. The barely-veiled lies, the ridiculous whispers of this conspiracy theory have convinced some of our neighbors that they are in on a secret, that their side is the truly righteous one. But the fruits of conspiracy and purportedly secret knowledge are clear. They turn us away from the reality of suffering in our midst and our complicity in systems that exacerbate rather than ameliorate that suffering. Just imagine embracing a whole conspiracy theory, its convoluted explanations, its strained logics, its silly imagination and looking away from these 545 children. Imagine choosing a fantasy over the reality of 545 children whose parents cannot be found.
When Jesus teaches in Matthew 22 that “all that law and the prophets” rest on two commandments, when Jesus recalls that loving God and loving neighbor are the hinge upon which faithfulness turns, we encounter the heartbeat of the good news, a good news echoed by Jesus and the prophets alike. These two seemingly clear commandments are the highest call God places upon our lives.
And, in this moment, these two commandments indict the nation.
Love is not just a feeling. Love exceeds care and tolerance. As Cornel West famously said, “justice is what love looks in public.” Jesus’ commands to love God and neighbor are not just good advice. They are the very measure of justice, the very center of the reign Jesus inaugurates.
You see, I see myself in the faces of those parents and those children fleeing Central America. Were it for a small change in the place of my birth in Puerto Rico, were it for a slight variation in the colonial histories of Latin American, were it for a minute difference in the United State’s numerous interventions in this hemisphere, I could have been that child dragged by the hand across dangerous terrain. I could have been that parent dreading so much what would become of my child that I would risk it all to bring them to safety and perhaps prosperity.
If we can’t imagine ourselves in the faces of these children or their parents, then we will only see their plight as irrelevant, their journey as an invasion, their hopes as a threat to ours. In the kind of love to which Jesus calls us, the truth is that the plight of the migrant is ours, their journeys are a path of faithfulness, their hopes show us what the reign of God should be.
If we can’t empathize with their stories, then we can fathom using child separation as a deterrent to other desperate families. Only then would we hold up children bereft of their parents as a warning to others that they should not dare hope for a better life at the end of the long caravan that brings the migrant to the border.
You see, when I think about those 545 children, I don’t imagine blank faces. I don’t wonder what they look like.
They look like me. They look like my children. They look like Jesus.
And in those faces, I see the real shape of love. In those face, I see the massive moral, theological, and political failures that have brought us to this moment of political and theological crisis.
In those faces, I see a reason to vote in love.
In those face, I see a reason to protest in love.
In those faces, I am reminded what loves really means.
Eric D. Barreto is the Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. His passion is to pursue scholarship for the sake of the church, and he regularly writes for and teaches in faith communities around the country.
Twitter | @ericbarreto
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