Just as crises can reveal the strengths of our infrastructure, so too can they reveal the weaknesses. At the same time, a crisis can disclose the enormity as well as the limitations of our humanity. Even as the current Ebola crisis may have shown forth the strong points of the U.S. healthcare infrastructure, it clearly exposed some of its vulnerabilities.
The same can be said in relation to our humanity. From the time that Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with the Ebola virus, cries to close “the borders” to those traveling from West Africa began. As two of Mr. Duncan’s caretakers contracted the virus, the cries to close “the borders” between the “United States” and West Africa became shrill.
The futility and impracticality of such a measure seems to make little difference to those who call for closed borders. At stake, they say, is the health and wellbeing of our U.S. citizenry. Even when marked by sincere concern, I find the call to close U.S. borders a troubling indication of the limitations of our humanity. A story in the life of Jesus makes this plain.
In the social-religious context of Jesus’ day, there was a long history of conflict between Jews and Samaritans. Jews had constructed images of Samaritans as an indecent and ritually impure people. Samaritan women were considered the most impure of them all. Multiple narratives of power intersected on the bodies of Samaritan women—ethnic, gender, and cultural. Put simply, they represented at once an inferior “race,” gender and religion. Thus, the social spaces of Jewish men and Samaritan women were to remain separate. Jewish men in particular had to protect themselves from the contamination of Samaritan women. Generally speaking, Samaritans were a feared and thus demonized people.
By most accounts, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria on his journey from Judea to Galilee. This was considered a circuitous route. It was also considered a dangerous route given the antagonism between Jews and Samaritans. Again, Samaritans were considered dangerous enemies to the Jews, and most certainly ritually impure. However, Jesus crossed the borders into Samaritan space anyway. By going into Samaria, Jesus placed himself in the midst of those most feared, if not demonized, in the Jewish world. He ignored all the prevailing animus directed toward the Samaritans and dismissed notions of them as an unclean and dangerous people. He flagrantly rejected the social-religious hysteria about Samaritans by going out of his way to enter their space. He refused to let the “madness” of his times to blind him to the divine humanity of the Samaritans, or to overwhelm his own divine humanity. He, therefore, crossed the constructed human borders to bring healing and salvation to the Samaritan woman. This story is of course only representative of a ministry that consistently crossed borders of fear and stereotypes to affirm the humanity of those who were lepers in Jesus’ day. Simply put, Jesus’ compassion was no respecter of borders. Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud About Protecting Our Borders and the Ebola Crisis by Kelly Brown Douglas”