Life before death!
John 10:9-15 J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
6-15 Jesus gave them this illustration but they did not grasp the point of what he was saying to them. So Jesus said to them once more, “I do assure you that I myself am the door for the sheep. All who have gone before me are like thieves and rogues, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If a man goes in through me, he will be safe and sound; he can come in and out and find his food. The thief comes with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying, but I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd will give his life for the sake of his sheep. But the hired man, who is not the shepherd, and does not own the sheep, will see the wolf coming, desert the sheep and run away. And the wolf will attack the flock and send them flying. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and has no interest in the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep.
Clever speakers and writers begin a piece with a joke or amusing anecdote, but this one comes with a health warning. This will make very unpleasant reading! I have been involved with Christian Aid envelope collections for many years and we only fairly recently decided to dispense with this form of collecting in favour of another, so I can remember many of the campaigns and their various slogans. With the horrific news from the south coast of England recently, I was reminded of what I considered then and even more now a very effective few words in gaining the attention of would-be contributors. It was the words of the Essex Police Officer who announced the discovery of 39 bodies in a refrigerated container shortly after it arrived in the UK en route from Zeebrugge that jogged my memory. She spoke very sensitively and movingly of the need for dignity for these unfortunate people, as they were removed from the vehicle and as attempts would be made to identify them, to establish the cause of death and to explain how something as appalling as
this could happen in the UK in 2019.
The Christian Aid slogan to which I refer was:
“We believe in Life before Death”.
As Christians we have the hope of a life everlasting, more joyous than anything we have yet experienced or can even imagine. A Kingdom without pain and suffering, where all tears will be wiped away. The Bible makes many references to this. We strive for the establishment of this hope as a reality on earth, but see so much that contradicts it, both in our own everyday lives, amongst those in our own community, in our country and beyond our own borders.
It is hard to imagine the horror, the fear, the loneliness and helplessness of what these poor people, men and women, perhaps children too, must have experienced. There have been reports written and interviews conducted with some of those lucky ones who have had a similar experience, but by some quirk of fate, have managed to survive. They speak of being enclosed in total darkness for long periods and sometimes in temperatures of around -18 degrees centigrade, with no chance of eating or drinking and no means of escape from locked containers. For some of these containers would be transporting frozen goods such as meat or vegetables. Those who did survive speak of the difficulty of taking a breath, which became an impossibility for so many others.
Even more horrible than this is the fact that it seems several families contacted the BBC to say that they had received horrific text messages from loved ones, incarcerated in this particular container, describing the awfulness of the situation in which they found themselves, quite possibly the last words they would ever hear from these hapless members of their family.
An interesting question was asked of the Radio 4 “Any Questions?” panel, a few days after the revelation: “What would we have thought of these people had they survived?”. There was a realisation that many people would probably have thought differently. This prompted some extreme views on either side on the subsequent “Any answers” ‘phone-in. A lady from Bradford who had worked with refugees in the city, said that this sort of thing has been going on for years. Another caller displayed a distinct lack of sympathy, as he promoted his view that these people were economic migrants who were breaking the law and that no-one forced them to climb aboard the truck.
What does drive people to travel 6000 miles (many if not all of this group seem to have originated in Vietnam), leaving behind friends and family and going into the complete unknown, whilst passing over large amounts of money which it may have taken years to amass, to people whose credentials are unclear. In those circumstances, you must be completely ignorant of the dangers, or totally desperate. Perhaps the latter and the conviction that there simply has to be something better out there is sufficient to override any thought of the danger. What would it take, having made it as far as the Channel ports in France or Belgium and possibly being told that it is less than 50 miles to the UK and that all will be alright, to not jump on the lorry and give it a go, one last push to freedom and prosperity?
We need to look again at the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Fundamental to it is the fact that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
Here is a part of it:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination
There are 30 articles in all.
Of course there are no easy answers to this problem, to this scourge on our world. Surely however, it begins with a recognition that the vast majority of refugees resort to these desperate measures, because they are, in a word, desperate. Again and again we see that it is the weak and vulnerable who are exploited, mis-treated, victimised, abused, tortured, murdered. These are the very same people to whom Jesus Christ drew and draws near. For he knew, and knows their plight and from personal experience too.
Irresponsible and self-seeking policy decisions on the part of international leaders perpetuate conflicts which exacerbate the difficulties. Thieves and robbers motivated by money alone and with no care for people are allowed to operate with impunity and still we are battered with the stick of “our country first” which has it that refugees, migrants, immigrants are not our responsibility, but that of someone else !
The Bible reading has such a relevance to this modern-day catastrophe.
Jesus came to the world to give life and far more life than any who had come before or have come since. He is the God Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. The hired man has no interest in the sheep, only in the money that the wolf gives him. The hired man runs away and leaves the sheep to the wolf. The wolf’s only interest is the money that the sheep give to him
May the day quickly come when all people, irrespective of colour, race, origin, gender, orientation, faith or no faith, rich or poor, strong or weak possess as of right, the dignity enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and at the core of the teaching of God’s word through the Bible.
Peter Lambert – November 2019