In Mark’s gospel (Mark 9: 30-37) he asks his disciples what they have been talking about. Busted, they don’t know what to say, because they have been discussing which one of them is the greatest. It is not so uncommon for folks to talk about who is greatest. We do it quite regularly, in various subtle ways.
But Jesus turns the whole conversation on its head by saying something revolutionary. He says “The least among us is the greatest.” Then he takes a small child, someone in Jesus’ day who would have been considered disposable. He takes this kid and puts him in the middle of the circle of disciples, as they sit in this village talking. Then Jesus says this bewildered little boy is the best example they might see that day of the face of God.
In our hearts we know this, but all our best convictions about children and how they should be treated have been challenged this summer as we watched helplessly as our government imprisoned hundreds of children who arrived on our southern border with parents who were seeking asylum. Not let’s be clear that asylum is when you are fleeing drug cartels or despotic rulers or domestic violence, which many families said they were doing. Pictures of children in chainlink enclosures filled the news. Stories of children in reform school programs, forced to rise early, clean latrines, avoid touching each other shocked and saddened most of us.
To their credit Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services has rallied many volunteers to offer support and assistance. The children gained some relief when Judge Dana Sabraw ruled in June that all children had to be returned to their parents within 30 days and children under 5 had to be returned within 14 days. Many kids found their moms and dads. But sadly, 416 children are still alone, and not yet re-united. Officials blame administrative complexity. Many parents say they were lied to or forced to sign away their children. The American Civil Liberties Union has brought dozens of additional lawyers to press the cause in many courtrooms.
Yet dozens of small children have spent this entire summer in enclosures with restricted recess, only limited access to their parents through infrequent phone conversations, and no certain date of release. They have spent this entire summer held in custody. For most children, summer is the delightful time of freedom that they await all year. It is the time of running and splashing and joyful exuberance. It is the time of dreaming and wondering and hoping new things. These little people, these children of God have lost a lot of time.
Just this week I learned that there are plans in place by ICE to allow these children to remain in custody indefinitely. Not only is this a matter of serious concern, and an urgent prayer request, but I believe it is something we need to address as people of faith.
This week, as school busses in our town started up again I wondered about those children lost in our land. I raise this issue because we cannot forget them.