So, here we are, the final encounter; Jesus and Pilate. The power of God’s love face to face with the power of Rome. The way of peace and love confronting the way of fear and force. Two men of power: Jesus, who has been arrested, abandoned, and is about to be sentenced to death, and Pilate who controls an army of Roman soldiers and holds the power of life and death. And yet, it seems like its Pilate who is afraid, Pilate who is acting out of fear.
Jerusalem is crowded for the Passover celebration, and there have been whispers of possible acts of terrorism and rebellion against Rome. So far, things are going well. Now along comes this Jesus fellow, a trouble maker, his own people say so. Pilate feels the heat from Rome to keep the peace, and he senses the fear of this crowd before him. This man of incredibly worldly power is trapped by fear, and so he condemns to death a man he knows is innocent. Pilate’s power is secure, the power of Rome is secure. For now.
In 1939, the German ocean liner, the MS Saint Louis, set sail from Hamburg to Cuba, carrying 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Only 29 were allowed into Cuba, but the ocean liner, followed by a US warship, was not allowed to land in the United States or Canada. You see, we didn’t want “those people” here, because we didn’t know how many would come here to cause trouble. Besides, America was just starting to come out of the Great Depression, and we had our own problems. We didn’t need more poor people.
Eventually, the remaining passengers were returned to countries in Europe, countries which were soon invaded by Nazi Germany. Most of those returned refugees were killed in concentration camps or while attempting to evade capture.
Later, in 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order #9066, declaring all Japanese people be excluded from the west coast – all of California, and most of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. 5,000 people “voluntarily” left these states, another 5,000 were suspected of spying and arrested, and over 82,000 were interned in camps patrolled by the military. About 80% of these people were born in America, and were American citizens at birth. Many others were naturalized citizens of the United States.
Today there is a terrible war in Syria. Over four million people are risking their lives trying to get out, trying to get someplace safe, many with only the clothes on their backs. Many died crossing the Mediterranean, trying to get into Europe, Trying to get to safety.
And now, governors of 31 states say they will refuse to take in those who are able to make it halfway around the world. The governor of Massachusetts has, bravely, backed away from this position. This past week, our House of Representatives in Washington passed a bill to keep out these refugees, and return them to whatever fate awaits them.
Many of these American leaders are the same ones who want to, “Make America Great Again” by promising to wipe out those who do not agree with us, or get between us and “our” oil. They sound loud, proud and brave, but they are operating out of fear. They point to the attacks in Paris, but the facts are that the attackers were identified and confirmed European Nationals, not refugees.
“Well, we can’t have all those angry, young Moslem men running around loose”. Only about 2% of Syrian refugees are military aged men with no families. More than half are children under age 18, and a large percentage are women and elderly men.
“But our borders need to be secure! It’s impossible to check that many people and guarantee none will break our law.” Sisters and brothers, it’s impossible to guarantee the sun will come up tomorrow.
These refugees, still in Europe, are pre-screened by the UN before being referred to the US. Those approved are then screened using biometric and biologic data to confirm who they are. After all this, it’s another 18-24 months while candidates are interviewed and examined by the FBI, CIA, State Department, Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other intelligence officials.
It boils down to this: the possibility of a terrorist coming into the United States by posing as a refugee is extremely unlikely. There are many faster and easier ways for someone to get here. It just doesn’t make sense.
During WWII, we were afraid of having all those Jews coming here. We didn’t trust or want “those people” here. The same with the Japanese-Americans.
They can’t be trusted, even if it is their country. And now, the Syrian refugees wait. And wait.
In today’s Gospel, Pilate operating out of fear, sacrifices the innocent to maintain the illusion of power and control. Who are we willing to allow to die to maintain our illusions? Who else can we find to blame? Is this really how we Make America Great Again?
Ramana Maharshi was a sage in India in the early 20th century. A student asked him, “Master, how are we to treat others?” The teacher replied, “There are no others.”