In 2011, the state of Alabama passed a draconian immigration reform bill. HB56 was designed to make sure “illegal meant illegal” and it was as wide reaching as it was uninformed. Some of the provisions of the bill, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, included making it illegal for a landlord to rent to an undocumented immigrant; schools were required to check the immigration status of all their students; and from my perspective as a priest, giving aid in the form of money or a ride to an undocumented person became a punishable offense. In Foley, where we lived at the time, the law struck fear into the hearts of many. Mothers would tearfully ask teachers to take care of their children if they were arrested during the school day. Children were afraid to get on the bus, unsure if anyone would be home when they go there. It was heartbreaking.
TKT and I knew the limits of our ability to speak out on such things. Not only because the IRS has strict rules about political comments by churches and non-profit organizations, but because our membership, like many Episcopal congregations, included people from the tea-party on the right to occupy democrats on the left. But this situation felt different. This was no longer about political opinions, which are as common as butt-holes and smell about the same, this particular issue cut to the heart of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And so we spoke out, calling our people to stand up for what was right, to show God’s love to everyone, especially those children from FES who were so scared, and letting them know that we would continue to show mercy to those who were in need, whether they could prove they were in this country legally or not. It was what we were called to do as followers of Jesus.
During his inaugural sermon in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the basics of blessedness. Among the items on that list are things to which we might be called for a season: mourning, meekness, and persecution, for example. Others are things to which I believe all disciples are called to seek at all times: a hunger for righteousness, peacemaking, and especially, showing mercy.
We live in a time in which being merciful has gone out of fashion. “Illegal is illegal,” “drill baby drill,” “build the wall,” are a part of our common life. We casually throw others under the bus be they single mothers in need of help to buy milk and bread or business executives looking to maximize their own return on investment. We have, by all accounts, list sight of what it means to show mercy, to offer compassion, and to see the good in one another. And as a result, we’re seeing more and more draconian legislation and, in recent days, executive orders, coming down from on high, demanding that we show less and less mercy to the vulnerable among us.
In the beatitudes, Jesus admonishes us to stand up against such things, to show mercy to the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed. In the beatitudes, Jesus declares God’s blessing on those who seek after the heart of God, God who came in the form of a baby, born in a stable to an unwed mother in first century Palestine. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus, we who claim God’s blessings of forgiveness and grace, we who have received mercy, are called to show mercy to all because God cares not just about those who are in power, but especially for those who are the most vulnerable. We are blessed when we show mercy, and now, more than any time I can remember, we have ample opportunity to show it.