What Do You See?

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Rev. Ismael Ruiz Millan, Brookland-Brooksdale United Methodist Church
Roxboro, North Carolina
Sermon delivered at Duke Divinity School (Durham, NC)
September 30, 2008
Text: Mark 2:1-12

A bitter debate has taken place in recent years regarding immigration—especially illegal immigration. There are many views in this debate. Some think these “illegal immigrants” do not deserve mercy at all and have even tagged them as “the undeserving.” For instance, in North Carolina, young children whose parents brought them to this country illegally do not have access to higher education. Even though these children did not ask to come to this country, North Carolina law has resolved that they do not deserve to go farther academically because they are “illegal.” On the other hand, others think these “illegal immigrants” deserve mercy. In fact, in 2007 there was an attempt to approve an immigration reform, sadly, the attempt failed and as today twelve million “illegal immigrants” remain unseen and unheard. The theme of illegal immigration is indeed very difficult to approach. In addition, the truth is that the Church has not been too vocal in addressing this issue. In fact, it has failed to see this situation with Jesus’ eyes. If Jesus gave the Church many examples of how to address difficult issues, as Christians, we cannot ignore difficult topics; our responsibility is to address them in the light of the Scripture. I would like to take a close look at the passage in Mark 2:1-12 and see how this passage can illuminate the way we see the so-called “illegal immigration” issue.

In this passage, Mark describes what seems to be a normal day in Jesus’ ministry: a huge crowd has gathered to hear and see Jesus as well as to be heard and seen by Jesus. As on other occasions many people are able only to see and hear the crowd, but not Jesus.

I imagine people with all kind of needs, listening to the big news—Jesus is at home!—running to the place where he was, only to sadly realize that it is impossible to reach Jesus and returning to their homes, their many needs unresolved. However, in the midst of all the chaos, a group of four people carrying a paralytic man refuse to be intimidated by the huge crowd and are willing to do anything in order to hear the words of healing pronounced by Jesus and see their friend walk again.

Mark recounts how these four people took this man to the roof. Mark clearly states that they “…removed the roof above him [Jesus]…” and “…after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.” One cannot ignore that what these four did was unusual. Further, is unlikely that destroying another person’s roof without a reason was permitted which suggests that what these four people did for their friend was illegal.

The more challenging moment in Mark’s account can be found precisely in Jesus’ reaction to the illegal action that these four committed on behalf of this paralytic man. Jesus reacts by doing three things: he sees and he forgives. What does Jesus see? Faith. What does Jesus forgive? Sin. Jesus did not pay attention on the illegal act these four men committed; rather, Jesus focused on their faith.

There are approximately twelve million “illegal immigrants” in this country. They need to break the law—enter through the roof—seeking to fulfill their material need, just like the paralytic man. They come to this country putting their faith in God and trusting that God will give them a better life in this country. In this passage, the paralytic man wants to be seen and heard by Jesus in order to be healed, but the reality is—he cannot do it for himself. He needs help; he needs someone who is willing to speak for him, so he can be heard. Even more, he needs someone who is willing to take him before Jesus, so he can be seen. The “illegal immigrants” who are in this country, like the paralytic man, want to be seen and heard in order to see their material need fulfill; however, they cannot do it for themselves, they do not have voice and often they are considered invisible and have been tagged as the “undeserving.” Like the paralytic man, these “illegal immigrants” need someone willing to speak for them and do whatever is necessary for them to be seen so their material need can be satisfied.

As pastor of a church mostly composed of “illegal immigrants,” I have heard many stories of what they have had go through to come to this country, seeking a better life. In one occasion, I took a sixteen years old boy to the doctor because he had a strong pain in his stomach. He told me that it was because while he was trying to illegally enter the U.S. his only food for an entire month was a bag of chips and a cup of water. I asked him why he not returned to his country (he was from Guatemala) and his answer was: “Back in my hometown is worst, there, I do not have anything to eat, so it was better to keep trying.” What is most amazing is that he told me, “If I am telling you my story is because Papa Dios (God the Father) took care of me.” For Anglo-Americans, the fact that these immigrants are risking everything (even their own lives) to come to this country is irresponsible. However, I have learned to see their material and spiritual needs and most importantly their faith first, rather than their illegal actions.

The truth is that the “common sense” applied to this matter is that these people have committed a crime and the consequences need to be paid. In other words, society and even the Church have seen their illegal acts first, instead of their needs and faith. Yes! These twelve million “illegal immigrants”, in the eyes of the law, are criminals—they are sinners. However, the truth is that all of us are sinners no matter if we are legal or “illegal.” Therefore, if the society has decided to focus only in their illegality the church cannot do the same.

Here is the real challenge. First, what would happen if the Church were willing to do what these four did? Remember, these four people were willing to even commit an illegal act to help this man to be heard and seen. I am not saying that the Church should commit illegal acts in order to help these “illegal immigrants”; however, the reality is that “illegal immigrants” are breaking through the roof, I mean through the wall because they are in great need. We, the Church cannot ignore this reality. If the Church is supposed to be Jesus in this world it has a responsibility to not focus on their illegal actions, just like Jesus did with the paralytic man. Jesus did not focus on the hole in the roof; rather he focused on their faith of the four as well as the need of the paralytic man and he granted this man what he wanted and even more—this man received forgiveness of sins. “Illegal immigrants” as the paralytic man are here seeking to fulfill their material need, but they deserve more. The Church has the responsibility to fulfill their material need but also to forgive and heal these “illegal immigrants”, just as Jesus did with the paralytic man.

Without a doubt, the issue of the so-called “illegal immigration” is not easy to approach. Could it not be that in the middle of this bitter debate on illegal immigration the Church has a great opportunity to hear and see what others have neglected? Could it not be that the Church has a great opportunity to offer forgiveness and healing to those who have been labeled as the “undeserving”? Could it not be that God wants the Church to not focus on “the roof” and focus on the need of grace of these “illegal immigrants”?

At the end of this passage, Mark describes how the crowd reacted to what Jesus did, “…they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

The truth is that more and more we are not able to see with Jesus’ eyes. The issue of “illegal immigrants” could be a great opportunity for the Church and society, to see in the middle of illegality, sinning, and tension, an opportunity to show proof of God’s forgiveness and healing. More significantly, the Church has an opportunity to let God be glorified in a way never seen before. The Church cannot ignore such an important lesson. The Church needs to see with Jesus’ eyes the issue of “illegal immigrants.” The Church needs to see their faith and needs first before their illegal actions and, just like Jesus did, fulfill these needs, but most significantly, the Church needs to offer forgiveness. Consequently, as it happened in Jesus’ time, God would be glorified through the world’s proclamation: “We have never seen anything like this!”

This sermon is part of a new series compiled by the NC Council of Churches in conjunction with our lectionary-based worship resource Acts of Faith.  We believe that issues of peace and justice can be expressed in the worship life of congregations, and we remain committed to providing accessible and relevant resources to make this a reality.  This sermon was used with the permission of the author, and the views expressed in it are solely the author’s. Please contact us if you are interested in submitting one of your sermons for consideration.

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