Commentary on Mark 6:1-13
[Editor’s note: The author has read this text from the perspective of an immigrant, pairing the events of the gospel reading with the events of our time, imagining the gospel taking into account our own social situation.]
He was named Jesús, a name his parents gave him when he was healed when he was a child. Jesús Jose Maria López. Everyone expected Jesús to go to El Norte (“the North”) and save them. El Norte was a mixed place filled with contradictions. Promises and nightmares filled both sides of the mouth of the people who ever dreamed of going there. The situation of his village, his pueblito, was such that people had to leave their homes to escape sheer brutality and economic hardships. Many of them went to El Norte because they had no choice and not because they were hoping for any richness. The most radical hope was to get to a place in the United States and work quietly, hoping to send some help back home.
Jesús was one among many people who were going to save this poor village. Jesús was hope not only for money but for a path — a way out. Pride and honor were also at stake. In a community destitute of everything, anything that could lift them up would be life changing. The expectations varied. Some would expect him to make miracles. Other wouldn’t wait for much, knowing that just the thought of trying to go was already an act of unspeakable bravery. They all knew that along the way there were coyotes (smugglers), la migra (border patrol), rape, and prisons in which inmates become profit for private business — and those north-bound travelers are stripped of their bare-minimum sense of humanity. Hatred was everywhere, evil eyes and brutal hands waiting to destroy what was once deeply loved back in the village.
Jesús managed to cross the desert, got a job, and sent money back. Until he was caught. In jail, he wrote his mother telling her the whole situation and asking her to forgive him. He also asked her what the villagers were saying about him. At first, she didn’t want to say anything but she had promised to be honest with him the day he left home. She then said that at first, people were asking, “Where did he get all this money? It is like a miracle.” But they doubted, thinking he was a robber or a con-man. When they found out he was detained, they started saying: “We knew it, he is no good for this village. He thought he was above everybody else but was caught by la migra. Stupid! He has no skills to survive as an immigrant.”
When Jesús read the letter his mother sent, he was caught by surprise. And he was devastated. He truly believed that people would be so proud of him for having tried, for having managed to cross the border and send some money home. And then he thought that the fact that he was caught would make people have mercy on him and cover him with prayers. None of that.
For the most part he had no honor in his own village anymore. Even at his house, his brothers were mocking him. He felt stuck — he couldn’t do anything. Only his mother loved him unconditionally. All his own people abandoned him and he realized that there was a thin line between honor and shame, and that line that could easily be flipped, depending on what the community needed or decided to feel about him. Allegiances and betrayals were the same side of their feelings for him.
Feeling utterly alone, Jesús mustered some strength to send a letter to his four kids. His wife was killed by the brutality of gangs and the acquiescence of the state, something neither him nor his kids were able to grieve completely. He didn’t know how long he was going to be in that immigrant prison and he decided to write a letter to his kids. He wrote:
Stephanie, Angel, Ana, y Dieguito, mis queridos ninõs, Perdóname! (my dear children, forgive me.) I had to leave you to find a way for you to eat, to live.
Stephanie and Angel wanted to come with me but I am glad they didn’t. La Migra is taking away kids from their parents as soon as they catch them crossing la frontera (the border). I write you from this jail, a place that looks like a cage for animals. I can hear mamas y papas crying day and night longing to be united with their children again. But nobody knows where they are. We hear the government is misplacing our kids and they have no idea where these beloved kids are.
I can’t imagine how these kids are feeling! So scared, so anxious, so desperate. My heart aches so much here that sometimes I think I will not be able to make it. This jail is like a cross where we die slowly of shame and violence. Our blood drops from our hearts every day, and every day a little of what we think of ourselves is lost. I don’t know what it will happen to me. Perhaps I will rise again in your heart.
But one thing I want you to listen to — and listen carefully! Never, under in any circumstance, go away on your own. You are four people and you should always go to places in groups of two. Never go anywhere alone, be it to buy bread or to sleep. Make sure that you care for your abuela (grandma), and love her and treat her well. I might not be able to talk to you again but I tell you don’t cross this border. There are merciless people here. I’ve heard there are good people, but they don’t raise their voices the way angry, patriotic people do and the feeling is that they are overwhelmingly larger, even if it is not true.
However, if you ever cross this border, bring only water, tortillas, and a crucifix. Nothing else! You might get lost. You might get raped. And if they get you, you will be in jail for a long time since there is an official “bed mandate” where la migra must fulfill a certain number of prisoners in order to make profit for private business. You might lose your mind. You will think they are possessed by demons because only people possessed by bad spirits can do such things. And the worst thing, as you stay with them for a while you will feel you are possessed too. You start to curse and say they are evil. In the name of Jesus cast away their demons but cast your demons away too!
And above all things, guard your hearts. God has given you fullness! In whatever situation, be grateful to the earth, to God and to the universe. Trust in yourself. Nothing and nobody can take away the dignity of your own life because you are a child of God, made in God’s own image! It is hard to say, but they are too. Ask for oil when you can, pray for their transformation and your own healing.
Try to keep your sanity. Life is over only when God takes you to eternity. Before that life is a struggle! Always! Get used to horrendous stories you will hear and keep on going! Never go alone! Keep company with someone! Love as much as you can! Pray all the time! Fight without ceasing! And above all: don’t give up! And know that I love you and I will always be with you.