“Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean;’ ‘I am pure from my sins,’” asks the author of Proverbs (20:9). No one, is the implied answer. Sin is pandemic to humanity. “My sin is ever before me,” the Psalmist insists (51:3). Sin is the universal moral flaw evident in individual moral transgressions and in a life lived apart from and disobedient to the will of God. Pleading one’s sin to be an oversight, unintentional or accidental, does not absolve the transgressor. Stories of sin, of disobedience, punishment, and forgiveness fill the pages of the Bible. Adam and Eve disobeyed, Cain was punished, Pharaoh was forgiven (Exodus 9:27-28).
Sin is often corporate wickedness as described by the Psalmist: “Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net” (Ps 10:7-10).
The heartbreaking photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria was on the front page of Wednesday’s paper (June 26, NYTimes). The two lay face down, drowned in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande, swept by the river’s current as they fled the killing fields of El Salvador seeking asylum in the US.
Neither were breaking the law; neither were criminals. US law states clearly: “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title” (Title 8 of the United States Code).
After waiting a month at the border to make his case, out of frustration, Mr. Ramirez chose to wade across the river, to step on US soil and to have his plea for asylum heard. He was fleeing the violence of El Salvador, arguably a failed state, failure for which the United States must assume much responsibility.
A nation’s conscience was afflicted by the photo of the two lying in the river. Shame must now work its way into everyone’s heart because all of us stand indicted. None can say, ‘I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin’ (Proverbs 20:9). We have either stood by silently or our “mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression” (Ps. 10:7).
What now? We must repent and seek forgiveness. We cannot blame another, but must acknowledge our involvement, our sin. For some this sin was of omission, for others a sin of commission. But all must take responsibility for the death of Valeria and her father. Our elected officials in Washington do our bidding, paying close attention to public opinion. Our evangelical vocation as followers of Jesus is to speak and live his command: Love God and love neighbor as oneself. We dare not be silent. The Bible’s instruction is very clear: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34); and in Hebrews we read, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2).
The death of Valeria and her dad must awaken us to our sins, our sin of failed hospitality. Forgiveness is promised, but first must come repentance. Repentance will include newly passed US immigration laws inspired by followers of Jesus, answering the question , “What would Jesus do?”