I’m going to start reading the Bible back to front. Or maybe hanging off of a limb upside down, like a bat. Then maybe I’ll see the things I need to see, the first time around. In the words of Robert McAfee Brown, I need new lenses to read the Bible “with Third World Eyes.”
Bob Ekblad writes of speaking to don Feliciano, a Mixtec farmworker who pastors a Mixtec congregation in the Pacific Northwest. Don Feliciano said, “This is the biggest problem we have – maybe you too were coming to tell me that this is wrong that we are illegal.” *
Reading this, I brace myself. How many times this man must have been lashed with that label: Illegal.
Ekblad responded as I would: “In the kingdom of God there are no borders, and God views us all as beloved children.” Simple. He went on: “If salvation were about obeying the law, then all of us are damned.” Surely. A stark expression of traditional Christian theology: we are saved by grace alone.
Then he knocked me off my feet. “I’ve been seeing Jesus more and more as our Buen Coyote,” he says to don Feliciano.
Buen Coyote. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to come to the U.S. legally from south of the border. You need strong family connections, advanced education, highly technical skills, thousands of dollars, and years to wait. Many who lack that winning combination depend on human smugglers called “coyotes” to get them across the border. It’s a harrowing, life-threatening journey that no one would take if what they were leaving behind wasn’t even worse.
So I find this image irresistible: Jesus as the Buen Coyote, the Good Coyote, the human smuggler who spirits immigrant families — like Joseph, Mary and Jesus – across the border, away from danger, into a land of promise and security. The Border Patrols and Immigration Authorities are like the Pharisees and Scribes, the ones for whom the love of the law trumps the law of love.
Traditional Christian theology teaches that Jesus forgives our sins in order to bring us into the kingdom of God. In the Lord’s prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, Christians across the centuries and the nations pray together: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To Jesus the Buen Coyote, our trespasses are no more or less than those of people who “trespass” the borders drawn on a map. And the forgiveness of our trespasses depends on our ability to forgive the trespasses of others.
As Martin Luther King wrote with such eloquence from the Birmingham Jail, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Likewise the apostle Paul wrote, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and the members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
This is good news to the poor and the oppressed. It is good news for people without papers. It is good news for all of us. Why are we are so unwilling to let love trump an unjust law?
We are faced with the moral challenge of our times. A new people are in our midst, and they are ensnared by a new net of unjust laws. This demands much of us who have, prematurely, staked out, laid claim and put borders around our 40 acres of the kingdom.
Come, Jesus Buen Coyote, Come.
* Liberating Bible Study, ed. Laurel Dykstra and Ched Myers, 2011.