By Elizabeth Glass Turner
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Children Adrift: The Old Testament
I do not think I’ve ever heard someone preach on the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter. She also strikes me as a savvy woman. She came face to face with a squalling infant who was suffering because of her father’s decree to kill the Hebrew infants and toddlers who could potentially pose a future threat to the Egyptian way of life. She probably surmised precisely who the young girl was half-hidden in the reeds near the basket. She knew it was a Hebrew baby; here was a nearby young girl. Not only did Moses’ birth mother get to raise him while he was young, she was now paid to do so. Yes, Pharaoh’s daughter was compassionate, and savvy.
I don’t know if she was able to intervene in the fate of other little baby boys; maybe she saved the one she could. Maybe she was haunted by the fates of the ones she couldn’t.
Mephibosheth was five years old when the news about his dad and granddad came. While David was mourning the loss of his best friend, Jonathan, Jonathan’s son was being spirited away by his nurse, to protect him in the political upheaval; but in her hurry, Mephibosheth fell and was disabled the rest of his life: the little boy’s feet would never work again. On top of the tragedy of his father dying, he would equate receiving the news with the loss of being able to properly run, jump, and play.
Mephibosheth was a child of tragedy and grief, through no fault of his own. He didn’t ask to be in the middle of political upheaval; he didn’t choose his family, he wasn’t old enough to weigh in on their decisions.
But David wants to “show God’s kindness” to any lingering survivors of Saul’s line. He restores property; he ensures income and livelihood; he bestows honor by issuing a standing invitation to supper, any time. David can’t erase Mephibosheth’s past, but he can ensure a future of dignity and safety. And he can make sure that Mephibosheth’s family is provided for.
The cries of other sons had been heard by God, had been heard by a Pharaoh’s daughter. David went searching for a child whose cries had faded, though the injuries to spirit and body had not.
The lost children of the Old Testament were not overlooked by God.
Children Adrift: The Western Hemisphere
Currently in the United States of America, immigrant parents are being separated from their children. No law requires this.
Some parents are trying to get their kids away from cartel violence, food shortages, and political upheaval. In Venezuela, children are starving to death. In Guatemala, the raid of one workplace in the U.S. can directly affect the sustenance of an entire village.
Children Adrift: A Messiah for Families
In a time when Americans often suffer compassion fatigue, seeing footage of wildfires and hurricanes, volcano eruptions and war, school shootings and tragedy, we are called to step back and reflect. Frequently in the Gospels we read of a Messiah gone AWOL: frustrated disciples search high and low, scout around town, attempting to find Jesus. In these moments, he had always withdrawn to pray in quiet away from the frequent chaos that surrounded him.
When Jesus encountered people swept up in debate or confusion about ethics or religious laws or the will of God, he invited them into the insight and truth he centered on in those times of prayer. In these teaching moments, Jesus was stretching the moral imaginations of his hearers. He took them from a narrow question to a broad principle, by way of illustrating vivid characters. Jesus’ responses may as well have been prefaced with the phrase, “Imagine this…”
Over on First Things, Jonathan Jones describes the strengths and virtues of moral imagination: “a uniquely human ability to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness.” This is a profound challenge: to conceive of other humans as persons, not as objects useful or un-useful to us. “Neighbor” implies valuable personhood, not just asset or liability. To be fully human, Jones posits, is “to embrace the duties and obligations toward a purpose of security and endurance for, first and foremost, the family and the local community.”
This personhood is woven in the most essential fabric of human existence: the family. To deny family is to deny personhood. To deny personhood is to relegate people to existence as asset or liability in a ledger. But to deny recognition of personhood to another is also to undermine our own humanity because, as Jones asserts, moral imagination is a uniquely human ability.
Today, what do we, as Christians, believe about who God is?
We see that God allowed a savvy, compassionate woman and a completely vulnerable infant to encounter each other in a river in ancient Egypt, restoring the baby to his worried mama and preparing him for leadership later.
We see that God intervened David’s life in such a way that David knew and trusted God’s kindness and wanted to show God’s kindness to the devastated survivors of warfare, a family ripped apart at the seams.
We see that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, constantly celebrated the humanity, the personhood, of those who were deemed a liability.
We affirm that families matter to God, that children have personhood and value, and that to willfully separate parents from their children and children from their parents is to deface our own “uniquely human ability to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness.”
We grieve violence, food shortage, corruption of leaders, and lack of infrastructure that places families in the impossible scenario of weighing whether their children will be safer in their home towns or migrating to a new place.
We pray that a robust vision of the value of human life will prevail over short-term practices that separate kids from their dads and moms. We condemn the use of human lives as pawns in political maneuvering when done by any portion of the political spectrum. We celebrate expressions of immigration policy that maintain the dignity and God-given value of every individual human life.
We know that the government of the United States is separate from any one religious body, but we pray that current and future government officials and representatives will recall the ethical principles at work in many world religions that often guide our life together in our democratic republic. Our grand experiment in the United States cannot succeed without a robust appreciation of individual personhood existing in the fabric of family.
And so, we stand, sit, and kneel with those who are crying for their children and their parents; we pray for peace, stability, and opportunity in their home countries; and we pray for wisdom for the leaders who have the power and the opportunity to create humane policies, if they will only have the imagination to do so.
An expanded version of this piece is available on Wesleyan Accent.
Elizabeth Glass Turner is a writer and Managing Editor of www.wesleyanaccent.com. She has experience in pastoral ministry, campus ministry, and faith-based non-profit communications in the pan-Wesleyan Methodist family of the faith.