“This brother of yours was lost but now is found.” Reflecting on immigration reform and reconciliation…
The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent remind us that reconciliation is at the core of our call to discipleship. St. Paul calls us to be ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation and the story of the Prodigal Son reminds us that the desire for reconciliation is at the very heart of God.
It is hard to think of many other areas of social policy that are more in need of the practice of reconciliation than the debate on fixing our broken immigration system. The hateful language often used to describe undocumented immigrants, the attempts to sow fear and suspicion towards them and the scapegoating of immigrants for everything from terrorism to high unemployment has created divisions in the Body of Christ.
Reconciliation is needed to heal the divide between citizen and undocumented immigrant members of our Church. As the joint statement from our U.S. and Mexican bishops point out, “Part of the process of conversion of mind and heart deals with confronting attitudes of cultural superiority, indifference, and racism; accepting migrants not as foreboding aliens, terrorists, or economic threats, but rather as persons with dignity and rights, revealing the presence of Christ; and recognizing migrants as bearers of deep cultural values and rich faith traditions.”
In this regard the story of the Prodigal Son is instructive. Most of the time we focus on the return of the outlaw younger son and the welcome he receives from his father in spite of his open defiance of the purity laws and his contempt for family jurisprudence.
But to better understand the connection between the ministry of reconciliation and immigration reform we need to focus on the older son’s debate with his father. Like a prosecuting attorney the older son makes an air-tight case against his father’s imprudent welcome of “this son of yours” back into the family. (Notice that throughout this debate with his father the older son refuses to recognize his familial relationship with his brother.)
In spite of the protestations of the older son and his justified anger at his brother’s brazen violation of the law, the father chooses mercy and invites his older son to do the same. But the older son just cannot move beyond the letter of the law: What part of illegal do you not understand? How can you give this law-breaker benefits rightfully reserved for law-abiding members of the family?
True reconciliation involves two simultaneous dynamics. One is the recognition of wrong-doing and a willingness to make restitution by the offender: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you … Treat me as one of your hired workers” (Luke 15: 18-19). The other dynamic is the willingness of the aggrieved to forgive and re-affirm the bonds of kinship: “This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again” (Luke 15:24).
Included in the principles for comprehensive immigration reform, our bishops call for some form of restitution to be made by the undocumented. The payment of reasonable fines is an appropriate act of restitution; but ideas like self-deportation are rejected by the Church because of the unreasonable burden it would place on immigrant families and communities in our country.
Most undocumented immigrants are ready and willing to make restitution and admit wrong-doing. The challenge posed by the story of the Prodigal Son to those of us who are citizens is whether we are willing to forgive and re-affirm our bonds of kinship with our undocumented brothers and sisters. What they seek from us is a willingness to reconcile with them; but too often our response has been more and tougher enforcement-only policies. These polices are not a solution to our broken system and have only caused the wound that divides us to fester, causing the whole Body of Christ to weaken. We need healing and wholeness; we need to bring our community together.
In our second reading St. Paul urges us to be ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation. Paul uses explicit political language to describe this ministry; we are called to be “ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5: 20). An ambassador speaks on behalf of the ruler who sent them. In essence ambassadors serve as the image of the ruler in the foreign land where they are stationed. When someone encounters an ambassador acting in their official capacity they are encountering the ruler.
As ambassadors for Christ in the service of reconciliation, we do not represent our own opinions or ideologies. We serve as the image of the God for whom we speak. And this is possible because, as Paul points out, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come” (II Cor. 5: 17)
The risks of reconciling with our undocumented brothers and sisters pale in comparison to the human, spiritual and economic costs of punishing people who stand before us seeking friendship and a way to make things right. Are we willing to extend our hands to them? Can we allow Christ to do something new in us? Are we prepared to be ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation?
This reflection was written by Tom Cordaro, author and Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. It is a new reflection written specifically for the Bread for the Journey blog this year.