15 March 2015
Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
Deeds Done in God
John 3:16 For God so loved the world… is many people’s favorite bible verse. For others it is the greatest stumbling block. These Greek words reporting what Jesus said several decades earlier have been used to insist that certain people are going to hell.
But some people, many people, are already living in a kind of hell, where their options are so bleak they end up deciding to give their children away to someone else to raise in hopes that those children will get enough food and medical care to survive.
In Haiti, clean water, food security and lack of jobs are huge problems for a majority of the population. The desperation contributes to a system rife with corruption in the struggle to survive. But, Haitian people are beautiful and resourceful and resilient and generous. I am so grateful for the chance to have met some more amazing Haitians and to have visited their homeland.
When Haiti achieved its freedom from France in 1804 in the world’s first successful slave revolution, the US refused to recognize it as a state for the 60 years until the emancipation proclamation began to end our own practices of slavery. Haiti was shackled with a debt to France equivalent to $20 billion today, which they finished paying in 1947.
Since then US backed dictators incurred more debt for Haiti. Democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide, was twice removed from power in military coups involving graduates from the School of the Americas. Aristide’s Jesuit understanding of liberation theology and God’s preferential option for the poor interfered with the business interests seeking to exploit Haiti’s markets.
Haiti, like Palestine in Jesus’ day, and the US in this age of war without end and our school to prison pipeline, is held hostage by structural injustice. Individuals as well as these societies themselves deserve deliverance.
Jesus brought his own body into the oppressive system of his day to say and to show that humans can live a life of liberation in the stream and hope of eternal flourishing, rather than cooperating with systems that sentence people to annihilation. He calls himself, in Greek, ton huios tou anthropou
the son of the man, also interpreted as the Human One.
It seems this title was indicating his way of being as a model of one living in deliverance; this is what a fully human life looks like; this is how alive a person can be; here is one who dared to live his life rooted in love and committed to justice. He lived his life in God, doing his deeds in the confidence of liberation. He was one who lived out a preferential option for the poor.
In this teaching in John, Jesus reminds his hearers of when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness and were being bitten by snakes. Moses was directed to make a kind of fiery serpent and put it on a flagpole for the people to look at. When they did, they would be healed.
I think of it like a public health poster campaign—a how to for how to deal with the bites; because those fiery serpents of the Exodus account may very well have been the 20-30 inch helminths (or worms) called dracunculus medinensis, also known as serpent worms. They are found in Africa and the Middle East. The larvae are ingested from stagnant water and migrate to the subcutaneous and intramuscular tissues of the legs or arms, eventually rupturing through the skin.
“The ancient method of rolling the worm very slowly, day by day, on a stick, is still used in many parts of the world today…It is very possible that the act by Moses, that of placing a brass serpent on a pole, refers to the primitive method of removing the worm by twisting it on a stick, slowly, until it has been completely removed from the body.”
So this comparison is made between Jesus and the snake. Just as the snake was lifted up, Jesus would be lifted up. There is something to be understood in lifting up Jesus as a model: an invitation to commit ourselves as well to his preferred option for the poor and living it out.
So, that is what the Graham family did. They took their bodies to Haiti in January for a week, to show their commitment to and their solidarity with the people of Haiti. We spent important time with their birth families, but we stayed the first 2 days at the orphanage. When we arrived the sun was about to set. There was no power, no food, no running water, no sheets or blankets on many of the childrens’ beds, and no one to tuck them in at night.
During our time there we engaged nonstop with the children: with crafts, reading, singing, teaching each other Creole and English, carrying them around, and showering them with the affection that they were hungry for. They especially liked seeing pictures of other children from the Global Ministries calendars. We brought gifts of clothes and toys and stocked their pantry, thanks to your donations.
There was one young man named Jean with developmental delays and very little language. He spent a lot of time alone looking off at the beautiful surroundings of hills and the ocean, close enough to see, but too far away for the children to visit the beach. Jean and I did a special craft together making frames for pictures of birds and when it was done he immediately gave all of his pictures away.
I was struck by his vulnerability and his generosity and was sure to show him attention and respect. I felt as if he was a catalyst for caring there: if the children would respect and protect him, they would continue to build their own legacy of liberation together.
The Graham children showed great love and patience and giving with each child they encountered. Their deeds were done in God as they brought the light of their love and presence to reconnect their own bodies to the challenges of the children at the orphanage.
It was very complicated to make sense of why so many children still live there with so little opportunity while these five now live here with relative abundance: fully Haitian, fully American. I deeply respect each one of these young people on their own journeys of discovering the good work that will continue to be their way of leading liberating lives, doing deeds in God.
On the way back Constance and I talked about how helping to heal Haiti is completely tied up with our own healing of our own conflicts, both in us as individuals, and at the US policy level as we advocate for things like the closing of the school of the Americas and insist on trade policies that don’t promote modern slavery. Later in the day she sent me this text of a reading she had found:
“Don’t cross oceans for people who wouldn’t cross a puddle for you. No, do it. Do cross oceans for people. Love people, all people. No conditions attached, no wondering whether or not they’re worthy. Cross oceans, climb mountains. Life and love isn’t about what you gain, it’s about what you give.”
Mama nou, Papa nou, ki nan syèl la,
Nou mande pou yo toujou respekte non ou.
Vin tabli gouvènman ou,
pou yo fè volonte ou sou latè,
tankou yo fè l’nan syèl la.
Manje nou bezwen an, ban nou l’ jòdi a.
Padonnen tout sa nou fè ki mal,
menm jan nou padonnen moun ki fè nou mal.
Pa kite nou nan pozisyon pou n’ tonbe nan tantasyon,
men, delivre nou anba move.
Paske, se pou ou tout otorite, tout pouvwa, ak tout lwanj,
depi tou tan ak pou tout tan.