Bridges and Barriers
The magpies near my garden can often be heard collectively complaining about my
cat, sometime joined by the robins. When a magpie dies, the magpies that live in that
area, come together, check it is dead and then engage in a long mourning process
standing around the body. It is a well reported phenomenon. Magpies have
empathy, collective empathy and they mourn their dead.
So we humans are not the only ones to have empathy for our loved ones and our
fellow species. Jesus uses his empathy always, to demonstrate Gods concern for us
and it is often the pivot of his interaction with people in the gospels.
In the gospel reading in Mark we hear that Jesus has been begged by a religious
leader to go and heal his little girl who is very ill and he goes off to do just that. The
man was a male, a leader in the synagogue, head of his family, therefore socially
acceptable and talks to Jesus as an equal, but also worships him. But on the way to
the mans home, Jesus is touched by a woman who has been haemorrhaging for 12
years. She is a woman, she is unclean, poor and an outcast, anonymous. She has
been exploited by private health care. She touched Jesus, breaking the purity code.
He feels the energy goes out of him, something I’ve only come across very rarely:
the woman is healed. Finally he continues on his way to Jairus home. The mourners,
outside the religious leaders house, laughed when Jesus said the girl was just
sleeping. Their disbelief wasn’t helpful. So Jesus put them out of the house and
The pivot for all Jesus actions was compassion. Compassion for those who were in
need, emotionally (demoniacs), physically (healing miracles and feeding of 5000)
and spiritually (the rich young man). But he was opposed by many religious people.
2,342 Mexican children have been separated from their parents on the Mexico/US
border between May 5 and June 9th. The children have been held in cages,
temporary shelters and tents. The older children are looking after the younger
children, some who are in nappies.
This week a US senior judge laughed at the stories of separation and called critics,
So in these strange and disturbing times what would Jesus do? It seems that this
question is very divisive. There are two realities in the US and in the UK and across
Europe. Our ideologies divide us.
Some 18 months ago I preached about the Church under Fascism. As we
increasingly encounter people giving Nazi salutes on our streets this is more relevant
than ever. Madeline Albright has recently written about populism and Fascism. So
What is Fascism?
Fascism developed in Europe, in the early 20th century. Instead of focusing on class
conflict, like the socialists, fascists focus on races and nations, purity of nationhood
and citizens. Fascists talk of national rebirth. Oppressive policies deliver national
The church under Fascism divided into two camps;
Firstly those who supported the idea of a Church composed of just pure white
people, ein Volk, one people. One American leader has talked this week of regaining
a “White” America.
Secondly there were those who protested against the Fascism and said it was anti-
Christian stance, and anti-Semitic, discriminating against Jews. Jews were being
murdered along with gypsies, gays, black people-over 7 million were gassed to purify
We are in the same situation today.
Muslims, migrants and asylum seekers are associated with being criminals, visually
in the press with big front page headlines describing people as swarms and through
narratives/stories gossiped by the media.
So you have a narrative of denigration. They are less than us, these people.
Therefore we do not treat them as equals. Therefore we can treat them without
compassion, even babies and children. The law is superior to grace. The law says
they are subject to authority.
The passage in Acts tells us how Christians lived shortly after Jesus died. These
were holy people, amazing things were happening, and they shared what they had
with one another, They sold stuff to give to those who were in need, They ate
together, prayed together, and were good to people they met. And their number
The Roman historian Eusebius has a vivid description of these people some 100
years later. (Stevenson, J.S, The New Eusebius, p58)
They were accused of being cannibal’s because it was thought they were eating the
body and drinking the blood of Christ. When they shared wine they remembered that
Christ had died for them and his blood had been shed as he had predicted in the
Jesus came to abolish the Law and replace it with Grace, with love and with
compassion. “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind,
and love your neighbour as yourself” Mark 12v28-34
What would Jesus have us do?
I think that Jesus would want us to build bridges and not create barriers or build
walls, or detention centres. I think he would want us to do what those Christians in
Acts were doing, to pray, to share, to give to others, to help those in need. As the
Roman historian Eusebius shows us that was a political act that undermined the
Roman Empire and people were arrested and killed for simply living as Christians.
So be wise my friends, because these are difficult times and there are strong strident
voices and people once again raising hands in Nazi salutes and talking of taking our
country back and telling people they are not welcome. We like the magpies have the
choice of empathy or apathy.
Ask yourself what would Jesus do?