Preview by Michael Leach
Who are these men and women who plant and harvest our food, paint our houses, watch our children and care for our dying parents? And what does Jesus have to do with them? Everything, says Deirdre Cornell, author of a new Orbis book, Jesus Was a Migrant.
Above her desk hangs a painting of the Flight into Egypt: the Holy Family fleeing into an uncertain future—poor refugees, migrants, outsiders in a strange land. Their journey traces back to the exile of our ancestors Adam and Eve, through the migration of Abraham and the children of Israel to a promised land, all the way to thousands of shattered boats rocking on perilous waves to the shores of America.
It is not possible for a Christian to talk about Jesus Christ, Ms. Cornell writes, without taking into account these great journeys, biblical and contemporary, in which the Church has always taught that God lives in the hopeful eyes of the stranger, the helpful hands of the Good Samaritan, the courage of the one who hungers and thirsts.
Jesus, nestled in his mother’s arms and rocking to the rhythm of a donkey, is the quintessential migrant. “God migrated from heaven to earth, taking on our humanity, and died on the cross in order to return us from exile to our true home,” says Ms. Cornell. How we treat the stranger, the least of our brethren, Jesus insisted, is how we behold him.
Jesus Was a Migrant is not a political book. It offers no policy. It is a movie in words that tell the stories of migrant families and communities who in their love and daring reveal to us the presence of an always moving, always generous God.
Deirdre Cornell shares her own migrant journey as a Maryknoll lay missioner to Mexico with her husband, three children and twins in her womb, and, most of all, her years of experience working with Latin American migrants in upstate New York. She knows what she’s talking about when she says: “Human mobility entails sacrifice. Migration has caused—and been caused by—tremendous suffering. But it has also served as a source of great blessing.”
That blessing can be ours, as individuals and as a country. We don’t have to do anything to get it. All that is required is that we put on “the mind of Christ” and see the migrants in our land as Jesus sees them.
That vision, writ in sweat and tears and love, stains the pages of Jesus Was a Migrant like blood on a shroud. It is a book that holds our interest from first page to last and can, if we let it, give refuge to our restless hearts.
Michael Leach is editor-at-large of Orbis Books.