Acknowledging Jesus in the Poor and the Immigrant: A Reflection on Our Time in Costa Rica

“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.” 

Luke 12:8-9

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Micah and I on the bus

Micah and I spent the last week in Costa Rica helping out with a short term mission trip consisting of two parishes from Alabama and Florida. It was a blessed trip and had a number of firsts for us. One of those firsts was that the trip had two priests attending which allowed for daily mass both in our base town of Coopavega and mass in the surrounding small communities where there is only monthly or quarterly mass.

I was in charge of one of the work projects working with a poor Nicaraguan family who had crossed the river to Costa Rica seeking a better life. They lived in a small wooden house covered in dirt next door to the local lumber yard. The inside of the house had a flimsy wooden floor to help keep it about a foot off the ground because water sometimes flowed underneath. 20170728_102127[1]When we entered the house we had to watch out for the center of the room because you could feel the wood giving way and there was a space large enough for a small child to fall through. There were about 7 people living in the house from what I could tell. The oldest woman was named Rosario (Rosary). She recently had a stroke but was so happy.

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Phil Brupbacher, one of the local missionaries down there told me she loved to be prayed with. Fr Jim Dane, the pastor of St Thomas Parish in Orange Beach, AL was with us the first day. He blessed the family and we all prayed for them and Rosario’s healing. While we were there work on their new house next door progressed rapidly. A roof was put on and most of the house was painted.

20170728_071451[1]Felipe, her soon-to-be-spouse, was so excited and had such a beautiful smile. He told us of the hard times in Nicaragua and his new life in Costa Rica. On our last day they fed us homemade tortillas and cheese.

This morning as I was reading my Bible I read a passage in Luke 12 that appeared to me in a new way. Jesus begins to tell his disciples not to be hypocrites like the Pharisees. THeir attitude could probably be best summed up as in Jesus’ parable on the two men who go up to the temple:

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The dump side of the lumberyard next to Rosario and Felipe’s house.  Those piles are saw dust.

Luke 18: 10 Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

Or earlier in the parable of the Good Samaritan:

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Rosario’s grandkids

Luke 10: 31 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.32 Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.33 But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.

In both the parables the men overlook the fact that the man before them is a child of God, their brother and as Jesus reveals, in a mysterious way they also are Him. (Matt 25)

I have heard so many times people, who when encountering the poor, instead of being moved to compassion, are rather grateful that it is not they who are suffering or poor. When confronted with misery, instead of feeling compelled to share in the cross they rather go the other side of the road, grateful that they are not the ones suffering. And yet here is where the Luke 12:8-9 spoke to me in a new way.

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Phil Brupbacher and Fr Jim outside the new house about to start painting

When we acknowledge that it is Jesus in the poor, in the migrant, in the Felipe’s and Rosario’s of this world we can understand better the idea that Jesus is not asking us to acknowledge Him publicly only in times of religious persecution. He is asking us to identify with the poor, the migrants, the refugees. He is asking us to see Him, recognize Him, stop and look into His eyes, love Him. He really is present in the miserable of our world. He still carries the cross of every man or woman who has a cross. I know that even our small crosses would be too heavy if He wasn’t walking with us helping us on.

I pray I can be the first to recognize Him in those around me, the lost, the unlovable, the filthy, stinking masses of sinners who bear the image of the crucified Lord.

20170728_105349[1]“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me. [Mat 25:34 ff]. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.”

St John Chrysostom Homily 50