Column by Mary Lee Talbot
“Did Joseph, Mary and Jesus have passports when they fled to Egypt? Did they get visas, know the language, find employment? Did Joseph need a work permit to be a carpenter? What were Mary’s skills; could she get a job as a nanny or cleaning houses? Who would provide child care for Jesus?” asked the Rev. Daisy L. Machado at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
She continued, “We do not have to confront the personal and frightening choice of parents to flee or have their son killed. How do we avoid the neighbors and military authorities? Did they have time to tell their families, or would it be better not to so their families will not be in danger? Most of us never have to consider these questions.”
Machado’s sermon title was “And Still Rachel Weeps,” and the scripture reading was Matthew 2:13-18, the flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
An angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his family and go to Egypt. They were in imminent danger from an insecure, ambitious leader, Herod, who was willing to destroy a community.
“That is the reality of cruelty,” Machado said. “In response, families make the difficult decision to abandon their homes and possibly never return.”
In 2023, Machado said, people are still weeping in Africa, Asia, Gaza, Mexico, Central and South America. “They are seeking safety, an end to hunger, trying to rebuild their lives — and the women and children are the most vulnerable.”
Machado acknowledged that immigration is a hot button topic in the United States.
“As Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967 at Riverside Church, ‘A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ The Christian community needs to make a commitment to bring justice for immigrants,” she said.
She has been taking students to the southern border of the United States since 1997. Earlier this year, on their annual trip, she said she felt a deep fear for the first time; the border was fully militarized.
“There are 5,000 people wading across the Rio Grande every day because they have nowhere else to turn,” she said. “Yet we are taught to fear immigrants, to see their faces as the face of an enemy who is here to undermine our way of life.”
Did the Egyptians see Joseph, Mary and Jesus as enemies? “Can we look at immigrants with a perspective that is not tainted by fear? Being an immigrant carries a price, and the undocumented pay with their lives. The southern border is an open wound,” Machado said.
In 2022, 890 bodies were recovered along the border.
“The Biden administration said the body count was up 58% over 2021,” she said. “How many bodies were not recovered? Are they invisible to us? Do their lives have no meaning?”
Machado was overcome with grief and stood for several minutes crying.
When she regained her composure, she asked: “What is it about the reality of immigration that invokes fear and hatred, especially on the southern border?”
Cardinal Roger Mahoney, former archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Los Angeles, has been an outspoken critic of U.S. immigration policy. He has said that the United States benefits from the labor of immigrants, but turns a blind eye to their exploitation. The government accepts their taxes, but withholds basic labor rights, especially to farm workers. These actions make immigration a moral and ethical issue.
Machado asked the congregation, “Did Joseph, Mary and Jesus flourish in Egypt, or were they treated as second class, paid less? Could they live in freedom and not fear that the place where they worked would be raided?”
She called upon the congregation to put a more human face on immigration. “People leave their homes because they must. They do not wake up one day and say, ‘I think I will become an illegal immigrant. I will go to El Norte and become a criminal.’ People emigrate because of the failure of their root communities. They cannot thrive and seek life elsewhere.”
This decision has deep emotional consequences. “People emigrate because they must,” she said. “Think about the children — they did not choose to be an immigrant.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has said that “there is a divine dream which the prophets and rabbis have cherished and which fills our prayers, and permeates the acts of true piety. It is the dream of a world, rid of evil, by the grace of God as well as by our efforts… to the task of establishing the kingship of God in the world. God is waiting for us to redeem the world. We should not spend our life hunting for trivial satisfactions while God is waiting constantly and keenly for our effort and devotion.”
Machado said in partnering with God for the good of the world, “we move from being a bystander to a participant because God is not willing to be alone,” in this effort.
The Christian community can take on the issue of justice for immigrants, especially minors. The Church can challenge the perspective that immigrants are criminals first and human beings second.
“The Church can refuse to accept immigration only in economic terms, but offer justice and mercy to see it as a human problem, to see the face of God in immigrants,” said Machado.
She continued, “Hermanos y hermanas, vencinos and vencinas, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, Rachel still weeps. Rachel weeps for those who left their homes and died on the way. Rachel weeps for children whose parents were deported while they were in school. Rachel weeps for those who left to go to El Norte and found only fear and that they were despised. Rachel weeps, Rachel weeps.”
There was sustained applause and Machado received a standing ovation.
The Rev. J. Paul Womack, co-pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, presided. James Denvil, senior warden of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, read the scripture. The prelude was “Sometimes I Feel LIke a Motherless Child,” a spiritual, arranged by Moses Hogan and played by Motet Consort members George Wolfe, saxophone, and Joseph Musser, piano. The anthem, sung a cappella by the Motet Choir under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, was “Lully, Lulla, Lullay,” music by Philip Stopford and text from the Coventry Carol, a 16th-century English carol. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “Fugue in E Minor, BWV 533,” by Johann Sebastian Bach for the postlude. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy.