The lectionary gospel reading for this coming Sunday comes from John 1. In it, Philip says to Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael responds pointedly, dismissively, offensively, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The comment is snide--part insult, part insultingly dismissive.
Today, the President of the United States reportedly asked a similarly insulting question, though one even more offensive: “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole’ countries coming here?” I am sorry to type that word in its entirety, but if he is going to speak it, we must encounter it in its entirety.
The president was speaking of Haiti and countries of Africa, which he contrasted to Norway. The racial overtones, now such a regularly repeated part of this president’s lexicon, cannot be avoided. Conscious or not, as the gospel writers remind us, one’s words reflect one’s heart.
It’s easy to say in resignation, “Here we go again,” and not dignify the comments with a response, but of course we must respond. Jesus spent his life responding. Scripture describes Jesus as, “moved with pity,” or “moved with compassion” (Mt. 14:14), but the Greek more literally points to one’s innards, one’s gut, the bowels even, which were understood to be the seat of affections. Jesus felt it in the gut when he was moved by something, something beautiful or something very very ugly.
Sick to one’s stomach may be the appropriate response here, but it shouldn’t be the only response. A formulated one, a reasoned an emotional one, should follow. Jesuit James Martin answers the president’s question about why would we want these people from shithole countries coming here with the following list:
1. They are our brothers and sisters in need.
2. They are often fleeing war, violence or famine.
3. There are children among them.
4. It’s the right thing to do.
5. That’s who we are.
That’s who we are, we who are followers of the one who came from Nazareth, the proverbial shithole town. We are the ones who welcome others in need.
In the end, Philip doesn’t respond to Nathanael’s below the belt comment snidely. He doesn’t insult him or call him names. He simply says, “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself who this person is, how they carry the very seat of God within them.
Maybe, just maybe there are those among these people from Haiti and Africa who carry the seat of God too. Maybe all of them do. Let them come and we can see.