A response to grace

The moderator’s column provides a retelling of Jesus’ appearance before Pilate at the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Mark 15: 1-15) using a football analogy. It provides a light-hearted reminder of the relevance of the Bible in contemporary life.

Another retelling came to mind in the wake of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s comments regarding the support he receives from his local constituents on the Government’s policy of off shore processing of asylum seekers.

Speaking to a Fairfax journalist last month, Mr Morrison spoke of the feedback offered when in the Sydney shire of Sutherland:

‘’On Australia Day, we were at the fireworks at Cronulla and I was walking through the crowd and people were coming up to me to say ‘g’day’ and encourage me and congratulate me on what we had done so far, and basically saying ‘keep giving it to ‘em and don’t back down’.’’

“But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

“Crucify him!” they shouted.

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15: 11-15.)

Is this how we treat vulnerable broken people, to ‘keep giving it to ’em’?

Greg Lake is a former Immigration Department officer who served as a manager at both Christmas Island and Nauru detention centres.

He resigned from his role after four years, finding it too difficult to reconcile his Christian faith with some of the things he was required to do as part of his profession.

In Sydney last month, Mr Lake addressed a conference exploring the issue of faith in the public space. He said we need to remember that asylum seekers are normal people. They are not perfect.

“There are some good people, there are some less good people, but that doesn’t mean that they are not broken,” Mr Lake said.

“It doesn’t mean that they are not vulnerable. It doesn’t mean that they are not valuable, in need of love and support.

“I had an 18 year old who took his own life. I saw lip sewing on multiple occasions. I saw people who had suffered the effects of voluntary starvation. How am I supposed to love the vulnerable, the child, the widow, the orphan and the refugee?

“How was I giving voice to the voiceless? How was I seeking justice and walking humbly with my God?”

As Mr Lake spoke he took the audience to the foot of the cross, saying a response to Jesus’ gift of grace in relation to asylum seekers is not a political position.

“If you are saved by grace,” he said, “then your response to the glorious grace we have in Jesus requires you to value people the way God does. They are made in His image, just like you. He values them, therefore we should.”

There have to be other options than the ones with which we are currently being presented. We are treating people as if they are less than human. We are using language that deprives them of their dignity and their humanity.

Has politics come down to ‘wanting to satisfy the crowd’ as Pilate did?

My biggest fear is that we as a nation are like the frog placed in the pot of water, with the temperature gradually increasing.

If this is your fear as well, there are practical ways you can respond. Your church can link up with local service providers and find out how to effectively partner with existing services. It might be assisting with English classes or sponsoring public transport or medical costs or just being a friend.

If you are reading this either on or before Palm Sunday, please participate in the Palm Sunday rally for asylum seekers in Melbourne (www.rac-vic.org).

And keep trying to change the language. Let us not demonise people through our words.

By Penny Mulvey

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