The "least of these".
That's the haunting biblical phrase I cannot get out of my heart after watching with horror and sadness the continued suffering of thousands of refugees, migrants and innocent children at our southern border. Forget for a moment the question of what is right or wrong when it comes to "illegal immigrants" or "refugees" seeking a better life here in the United States. That stubborn argument has been ongoing for a generation and no solution or compromise seems in sight. Forget for a moment the fact that by attempting to enter the U.S. these folks are breaking the law. No one on the left or right can dispute that fact. Forget the red hot rhetoric of political debate, the screaming headlines and dramatic press conferences and talking heads shouting at full volume at one another.
Just consider this.
These are real people, children of God like you and me. They are poor with little or no protection. They are exhausted and frightened and hungry after their perilous trek northward. The overwhelming number of them keep coming because they are trying to escape terrible economic and social conditions in their home countries. We can get frustrated about this disaster and its chronic intractability. But they are here, knocking at our door. Asking for help. How have we responded as a people?
Too often with mercilessness, with backs turned, with anger and judgment.
Even though we know these downtrodden folks are the "least of these". Least, as in lacking almost any power. Least, as in being at the mercy of our government. Least, as in having almost no one to watch out for them, to care for them, to advocate for them. Least, the poorest of the poor, the lowest folks on the global totem pole. Those who are invisible in this world. The ones most often left behind.
What has most shocked me about this humanitarian crisis is the fact that our government and many of our citizens too: we find it so easy to treat these suffering human souls as less than human. As objects. As annoying problems to be swept away, locked up, packed up and sent back to where they came from. "Not our problem," we protest. "Hard enough to take care of our own," we rationalize. "They will overrun us!" xenophobic leaders warn and the flames of fear are stoked and the door is closed so tight, slammed shut. "Just go away!" I imagine many are thinking, hoping.
But one truth will not go away. These are the "least of these" that we are talking about. Refugees asking for refuge because they are in danger. Is it not our moral responsibility as a nation to treat them with kindness, justice, and compassion? And the many who claim the high moral ground of belief in God: are we not obligated to turn those beliefs into actual loving behavior? Does not a decent civilized society always take care of these the least among us?
And not just refugees but the impoverished and the sick also. And the widowed and widower. And the orphan. And the child in danger. And the hungry and the homeless. And the exploited and addicted and disabled and war torn. The very old. The very young. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Using this simple criteria, America is not measuring up. Simple human decency seems to be in such short supply these days. Decency and character from those who lead us. Decency in our civil discourse, how we talk to each other, talk about others. Decency in agreeing to disagree and not just vilifying and dismissing those who disagree with us, a sin liberals and conservatives are both guilty of.
Caught in the crossfire are the least of these, the ones whom God reminds us are actually members of the human family. Of our family. They are our flesh and blood and the hopes they have for their sons and daughters are just as legitimate as the dreams we have for our own kids.
America stands at the border of compassion and hard heartedness. The least of these need our help. Which way will we turn? God help us choose the right way.