By MARIE F. MARQUARDT, Ph.D., Special to the Bulletin | Published April 20, 2017 | En Español
When Jesus spoke these words from the cross, he articulated one of the most profound mysteries of our faith. His words remind us that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Jesus was embodied—he hungered and he thirsted—and he was embedded in concrete relationships characterized by intimate love.
In John’s account of the Crucifixion, Jesus, before announcing his thirst, sought his mother and his disciple in the crowd at his feet. “Behold your mother,” he told his disciple. “Behold your son,” he said to his mother. Even as he suffered on the cross, Jesus ensured that the bond between those for whom he cared so deeply would be sealed. He wanted what many sons want for their mothers: that her physical needs would be met, that she would have a home.
During his public ministry, Jesus did not just thirst; he asked his followers to quench the thirst of others. Jesus was not only embedded in human relationships, he told his disciples to enter into relationships with others—to serve them, to invite strangers in and tend to their needs.
For more than six years, it has been my great blessing to participate in the work of El Refugio, a southwest Georgia ministry of hospitality. Our volunteers seek every weekend to quench the thirst of Jesus as it is manifested in the lives of people who are viewed by many as strangers. We open the doors of our humble house of hospitality to the families of immigrants detained at the Stewart Detention Center. We also bring volunteers from churches, schools and community organizations to visit with detained immigrants who have no one else to visit them. When we do these things, our mission is simple: to respond to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 25. We practice our faithfulness by welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, giving food to the hungry, and offering a drink to those who thirst. At El Refugio, we believe that when we welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner, we welcome and visit Christ himself (Mt 25:37-40).
Hearing Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John on Good Friday, I reflect on the resilience of those we serve. Every weekend, we welcome into our hospitality house families in financial and emotional disarray because one of their members—generally the father and primary breadwinner—was put into immigration detention. These families have so much to fear: the possibility of losing their homes or businesses; the probability that their loved one will suffer through a long detention followed by a harrowing deportation process; the reality that they will be forced to choose either to live apart, in many cases for a decade or longer, or to relocate their families to places where work is scarce, and where economies rely too heavily on money that migrants send back. Some also have to fear extreme violence abroad and the risk of returning to communities torn apart by war.
Here’s what astounds me—again and again—about so many of the families that we welcome to El Refugio: They choose love. In the midst of so much uncertainty about their futures, and with so many reasons to be afraid, they choose not to be overcome with fear but instead to be driven into action by love. Children visit their fathers, smile and press their hands against the glass that separates detainees from the outside world in the small visitation area; mothers stand in our kitchen and wait anxiously for calls from their sons, and then they whisper into the phone that all will be well. These families take courage. They make plans for an almost impossible future; they seek ways to stay together. And then, in the evenings, they gather around the dinner table with us, their hosts, and express gratitude despite it all.
So many times at our hospitality house, I have been blessed by the prayers of these mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of the detained. So many times inside the visitation area, I have sat across the glass from a detained immigrant who has bowed his head and offered a prayer for me and my family. They pray for us, and they bring abundant blessings.
If, indeed, we encounter Christ in those whose physical thirst we work to quench at El Refugio, and in the detained men we build friendships with inside the walls of Stewart, what does Christ reveal to us in these encounters?
I believe he reveals himself, in all his divine glory and the power of his love for us all. The suffering Christ thirsted and suffered to the point of death; yet, in the midst of it all, he paused to show deep concern for the physical and emotional well-being of his mother, whom he loved intimately—love that flows to each one of us today. He was fully human, and he was also fully divine. He could have been overcome by fear, but instead he acted with the most profound and self-giving love.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:18-21).
This Easter Sunday, as I behold the resurrected Christ, my fervent prayers are that God will give us all the courage to cast aside fear and follow Jesus in love. I pray that we will heed his call to welcome, opening our hearts and our homes with an outpouring of love for the Christ present among us today.
Marie F. Marquardt, Ph.D., is a scholar-in-residence at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Atlanta. She is widely published in the areas of religion and immigration. In addition to her academic work, Marquardt writes fiction for young adults. Her most recent novel, “The Radius of Us,” was released by St. Martin’s Press in January. Marquardt currently serves as chair of El Refugio Ministry and also serves on the board of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory. She and her family attend St. Thomas More Church in Decatur.