Sunday, August 28, 2016, Reflection on Luke 14:1, 7-14
by Elizabeth Dede
Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus is clear here that we are to be on the side of the poor, the outcast, the ones who are more often than not turned away.
There’s an old labor song called, “Which Side Are You On?” It asks that question repeatedly, and, of course, the answer is that you should be on the side of the laborer and not the boss.
It could be Jesus is singing that song to us. Koinonia has a long, rich history of being on the side of the poor. We were founded to live along side, be in relationship to the outsider in Americus—the African American people, the sharecropper both White and Black, those who lived in shacks.
We must always look for ways to stand with the poor because it is easy to overlook them. Our society, which is so caught up in materialism, puts the poor out of the way. They can be invisible.
Prisons are an example of the invisible poor. Prisons are built, for the most part, in the middle of nowhere. The Stewart Detention Center is one of those. It stands outside of the town of Lumpkin, a tiny place with nothing to recommend it, except, perhaps, El Refugio—a hospitality house for the families of prisoners.
The Stewart Detention Center is a private, for-profit prison. It was built on speculation. The Corrections Corporation of America thought it could sell the State of Georgia on another private prison. But Georgia had no interest, so the building stood empty and unfinished for a number of years, as CCA looked for a customer. They actually asked the State of Hawaii if it wanted to put a state prison in the middle of nowhere in Georgia.
Finally, the Federal Government contracted with CCA for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison. The men who are locked away there have, for the most part, not committed any crimes, except that they are in the US without the proper paperwork. Most likely, they have been caught up in an ICE sweep. They are awaiting a hearing and deportation. I heard on NPR recently that the judges are so unfair that more than 90% of the men held there are deported. From visits and letters we know that many are facing violence and repression in their countries of origin. They are not just economic refugees.
Not too long ago I received a letter from a man who wrote to us in perfect English. He was in his forties and had come to this country when he was five years old. He was born in a Central American country, but he had not lived there since he was five. He spoke no Spanish and had no relatives or connections to his country of birth. He was set to be deported—considered an alien in this country (Illegal at that), and he was an alien to his country of birth.
Here at Koinonia, we stand with the men in the Stewart Detention Center by visiting them and by receiving their letters and packing bags of clothes for them to have when they return to their country. I am learning Spanish so that I can talk and write to our friends who are locked up there.
Why stand with the poor? Why be on their side? Our culture values money and material possessions. It says there must be something wrong with a person who has little. They must be lazy or crazy or disabled in some way.
We choose the side of the poor because Jesus does. He tells us to invite the poor to our feasts. He makes it clear that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the sick and the prisoner.