Perhaps you’ve seen the images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph imprisoned behind dog fencing in the front yard of an Indiana church? The photographs have gone viral. A visual protest against the government’s policy of separating the families of those requesting asylum, they are a stark reminder that the Holy Family were once refugees fleeing state persecution. For those who view the pictures, they are intended to lead to the question, “If we detain and separate any refugee family, are we not, in fact, detaining Jesus Christ?”
This is an excellent question. Despite the hokey statuary and fencing bought at Pet Smart, there are two points worth further examination.
In the name each of us, the United States of America is detaining the least of these, among whom Jesus may be found, in detention centers across the southwest. Displays, like the one in Indiana will either reinforce the views held by half of the country or offend the other half. Despite the veracity of scripture and the parallels between the life of Jesus and a Central American migrant, some will never appreciate the meaning of Jesus in a cage or dying on a cross. This, however, isn’t art, to be “appreciated” or “ignored” like a Mark Rothko or a Jackson Pollock.
The cathedral’s leadership is making a theological pronouncement about who God is, what God cares about, and how God interacts with humanity. Why is this message important? Tell us. Three dimensional theological statements demand to be interpreted and given context from out of the Good News which they arise. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in cage can never be left to speak for themselves. Bread and wine, the ultimate statement of life defeating death, are never allowed to sit silently. We speak words of thanksgiving and hope. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ cage must be left with a door, a hole, a means of escape. This is the apocalyptic gift, the eschatological reality hidden from sight but always in plain view when Jesus is involved.
Secondly, Christians are perennially placing Jesus in cages. Sometimes these internment camps are our churches, our minds, or our selective readings of scripture. As we recoil in horror at Jesus being locked up, we forget our own culpability in doing the same. If Jesus questions our long held assumptions, beliefs, ideas about power, a committee’s decision, a conference’s actions; we will lock Jesus up faster than an immigrant asking for asylum while trying to cross the border. Who is this Jesus to tell us how to run our church, our denomination, our family, or our lives? If Jesus wants to be reunited with his family, he’ll need to stop messing with my conscious and those parables or unending love and grace.
Before you get ready to lock Jesus up on the front lawn of your church and call the newspapers to marvel at your activism, check and make sure Jesus is not locked up in your head, the back room of the church, or at your house. If you’re keeping Jesus prisoner, you are as guilty as those who run detention centers. Let Jesus out. Find a way for the Good News to escape.
Richard Lowell Bryant