Sunday, August 26, 2007

LUKE 13:22-30 21st Sun Ord Time MMS IMMIGRATION POLICY

“And people will come from the east and from the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

Luke opens this section of his gospel, as he does in other sections, with a question or a request. Sometimes these questions or requests are sincere, related to enthusiasm or curiosity: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Lord, teach us to pray.” “What is the kingdom of God like?” “Lord, increase our faith.” But today’s questioner asks, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” No enthusiasm here or even curiosity. A pessimist poses today’s question.

This is a bean-counter’s question, a question from a person more worried about himself than attracted to Jesus. Jesus begins his answer to the question in the spirit with which it is asked. He does not know if few or many will be saved but he senses that the questioner has reason to worry. He seizes an opportunity. He explains clearly that those who are complacent will lose their seats at the table of the Lord.

The setting becomes once again a place where Jesus repeats what he has said over and over again: some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.

Some mornings early before the heat of the day, I take a walk through my neighborhood in Merion, just across City Ave from the Philadelphia neighborhoods of Overbrook and Wynnewood. In all but the darkest winter mornings, I observe trucks of landscaping equipment drive across the city boundary making their way from some urban staging area to the green lawns of the suburbs. The men in the trucks invariably are of Latin American origin. Without these workers the estates of the Main Line would look like tropical forests by this time of year.

Some of these men, perhaps, have families in the city. Most of them probably left their families, parents and wives and children, back home in Mexico or Central America. Who knows if they have documents or not?

Many of you have images of outsiders like this in your hearts and minds, images of women and children on the move out of harm’s way, images of whole families who without help cannot sustain themselves in times of food shortages, images of scrappy people in informal economies that make something out of nothing, all of them outside the mainstream of status, power or the economy.

Jesus, of course, speaks of a religious reality here when he speaks of the outsiders sitting at table in the Kingdom of God; he speaks of a God rejecting the complacent who thought they would have a good seat; he speaks of a God offering the seats at the best tables to those whom the world rejects. There are, of course, a thousand ways in which we can act to assist God in his effort to seat this great multitude, a thousand ways that we can prepare for the kingdom by promoting a more just society.

But let me speak for a moment about the outsiders who are keeping our Main Line lawns cut, about our own nation and about what our Church is proposing in the area of immigration reform.

Cardinal Mahoney spoke about these men in May in a great speech he gave at the Constitution Center here in Philadelphia entitled “Immigration, the American Economy and the Constitution.”
I learned from this speech that 90% of the 500,000 unauthorized immigrants who enter the country each year find jobs within six months, but only 5,000 immigrant visas are available each year.

Despite the title of his talk the background of his recommendations regarding immigration reform focused neither on the Constitution nor on the American Economy. He spoke rather of economy in its original sense and of the notion of the alien and the stranger in the scriptures

The root meaning of economy, he said, is the arrangement of the household, in religious terms the just and peaceful arrangement of the household of God. He asked, “Is God’s good household roomy enough for all? And followed that question with this reference to the Constitution: “Who precisely is the we in we the people?”

From Deuteronmy he quoted the sentence: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

This notion of economy and the moral guidance of scripture provide, he said, the underpinnings of the position of the Catholic Church on immigration reform legislation. As many of you know, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration worked diligently in Congress in the spring for the passage of a just immigration bill.

The key points in our Catholic position are these:
(a) family unity for all workers; (b) a fair and realistic path to citizenship for current workers; and (c) a new worker program leading to permanent residency
No bill passed and I do not know when legislation will come before Congress again.

But the nation will call us again to work for a just and open immigration policy. We cannot equate in any way a just and open society to the kingdom that Jesus will usher in when he comes again. But it is a human beginning, a prelude, a recognition that we want to labor with our God who creates and restores human dignity.

From Luke’s gospel we know what Jesus foresees: some will neglect the call to the kingdom though there is “plenty good room.” And others will come from all directions. Not simply the queen of the south or the merchants of Corinth, or the classical learned. Joining them and taking some of the front seats will be those who run the dishwashers in the Central City restaurants and those who pick up after us and those who cut our grass.

“And people will come from the east and from the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13: 29-30