As we pause for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I’d invite you to read these words from his “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech, given the day before he was murdered.
I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
These words are extremely relevant for me today. I am often asked why, as someone known to be a Biblically and (mostly) socially-conservative Christian, I have what people perceive to be a more open or liberal position on refugees and immigrants than some in my tribe. The question “what will happen to him?” perfectly captures my response to that inquiry. Once I, as Dr. King said, reverse the question, the answer becomes crystal clear.
Of course, I am aware that practically speaking, we simply can’t let everyone in who’d like to come here. However, I summarily and categorically reject any policy toward refugees and immigrants that I sense is based in the belief that my safety is more important than their safety–that my value is greater than theirs. If, as many of my conservative brethren love to remind me, All Lives Matter, then bearers of the image of God who weren’t lucky enough to be born in a place as wonderful as I was matter. They matter just as much as I do, just as much as you do. They matter to God, so they doggone well better matter to me.
Finally, when I asked about this position, I continually recall the powerful “do you think God likes baseball?” scene from the movie “42,” presented below:
Indeed, if God inquires as to why you didn’t advocate for the least of these and the best you’ve got is “because I was more concerned about my own safety and well-being than theirs,” it also may not be a sufficient reply.
Like Dr. King, we must each travel our own road to Jericho in order to reach the mountaintop. How we treat the strangers and the needy, the “other” on that road will determine if we make it to our destination.