Commentary on Mark 6:14-29
[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.]
Those in government were told that immigrants are a danger to the land, that immigrants bring diseases, that they are rapists, robbers, and they are even animals. To them, the only thing these immigrants want is to take this land and to abuse the law. The present governor shared those fears, as others before him had done. They decided to deport them in massive numbers and also put a lot of them in private prisons so they could make profit.
The feeling of xenophobia ruled in all governors’ actions, convincing them to allocate a huge amount of money to the border, controlling that zone in brutal and complex ways. Fearing immigrants, they built a wall of hatred, hoping to behead the movement of immigrants that didn’t do what they imagined. The number of immigrants had grown by the thousands and continued to come. The governors of this empire didn’t realize that while an economy for just a few was in place, immigrants from the world would continue to move and in bigger numbers to places where the money is in order to find life and livelihood in whatever way they can.
These governors, past and present, had arrested, bound, and thrown so many immigrants into prison; they felt they were doing their rightful job. A previous governor didn’t talk about immigration but deported them by the thousands, showing no care for any individual immigrant’s life or situation. The present ruler couldn’t care less about their situation at home. He thought: “If these people are under regimes of violence, it is not the business of the empire.”
What bothered the governor and his administration, however, is that the immigrants kept coming and flooding the borders. The empire put more money into the border system with technology and highly militarized systems, along with private prisons and an even bigger wall. But nothing was working.
The people were demanding more drastic measures! While the present governor felt that he had no choice, he also felt glad he could show the might of his empire. It was very necessary to move on to this situation with harsher orders in order to shut down the waves of immigrants. The empire then decided to cut off the heads of families by separating children from their parents. They couldn’t think of anything better to eradicate this evil movement of immigrants coming without documents.
Some people called it sweeping cruelty, but the governor’s administration created an ideological smoke curtain saying that they didn’t create this policy. Instead, their policy is to follow proper procedures, persecuting those who break the law.
On the other hand, they knew that countless undocumented immigrants lived inside the empire; but these immigrants were needed as cheap labor to perform necessary work that the citizenry didn’t want to do. Besides, these undocumented immigrants were assigned tax numbers to pay their taxes and their money would never come back to them. While it was a great deal to keep undocumented people inside the empire, the governor felt a need to demonstrate that he was doing his job by inhibiting the influx of new immigrants. This policy, if not resulting in any immediate expected responses, appeased the bloody anger from the hearts of people who want them killed or to go through painful suffering. They are receiving what they wanted.
The suffering is unspeakable.
Connecting to present times
One such story from today’s headlines goes like this:
When he landed in Michigan in late May, all the weary little boy carried was a trash bag stuffed with dirty clothes from his days long trek across Mexico, and two small pieces of paper — one a stick-figure drawing of his family from Honduras, the other a sketch of his father, who had been arrested and led away after they arrived at the United States border in El Paso…
An American government escort handed over the 5-year-old child, identified on his travel documents as José, to the American woman whose family was entrusted with caring for him. He refused to take her hand. He did not cry. He was silent on the ride “home.” The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into “just moaning and moaning,” said Janice, his foster mother…
He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking the family pictures under his pillow …
Since his arrival in Michigan, family members said, a day has not gone by when the boy has failed to ask in Spanish, “When will I see my papa?” They tell him the truth. They do not know. No one knows … José’s father is in detention, and parent and child until this week had not spoken since they were taken into the custody of United States authorities. He refused to shed the clothes he had arrived in, an oversize yellow T-shirt, navy blue sweatpants and a gray fleece pullover likely given to him by the authorities who processed him in Texas.1
I, Cláudio, have a 6-year-old boy and I am an immigrant citizen, foreign and citizen at the same time. I could not read this biblical story of John the Baptist without thinking of stories like José and the loss of his father. To have José separated from his father is like having one’s head cut off. The story told in Mark 6 has no redemption. John the Baptist had his head cut off. That is how hundreds of families are now living, with their heads cut off, parents without children and children without parents.
If John announced the coming of Jesus Christ, these kids and parents announce the horrendous cruelty of the immigration policies of this country. On behalf of these families, we must stand up like John the Baptist, who told the governor of his day: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Just as Jesus came in the footsteps of John the Baptist, we must show up as Jesus Christ to these families.
- “‘It’s Horrendous’: The Heartache of a Migrant Boy Taken from His Father” New York Times, June 7, 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/us/children-immigration-borders-family-separation.html>. For another heart-wrenching story, see this Washington Post article from June 8, 2018: “A family was separated at the border, and this distraught father took his own life“ <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/a-family-was-separated-at-the-border-and-this-distraught-father-took-his-own-life/2018/06/08/24e40b70-6b5d-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html>