A small boy washed up on a beach, his knees bent beneath him like a child in bed. But he is only cold flesh now, left behind by the waves.
When that photo appeared to the world this past week, the stories in the lectionary incongruously spoke of healing and hope. Hope and welcome for the stranger. Healing for the deaf, the diseased, and comfort for the fatherless and the widow. But that photo screamed out a story of drowned children, a lost mother and a father left with empty hands as the world watched. One story out of thousands, tens of thousands, but it was the one that caught our eyes last week.
On Sunday morning, we sat in our churches and together listened to our scriptures spoken aloud. Be strong, do not fear. Here is your God. We held our children close. We asked again what we can do.
And there are things to do. Despite all the brokenness of this wide world, we’re also close and connected. Just as images travel, so can money and gifts. Through our actions, the hungry can be fed and the stranger welcomed. There is hope in that. Yet still our actions can’t return life where it is lost. So our hearts stay broken by that photo.
I must say that this week, when my little Plum came to find me in the middle of the night, dragging his teddies and books about trains, I haven’t been diligent about turning him around and returning him to his room. Instead, I’ve let him climb into my bed and tucked him up close under the blankets beside me so that he’ll stay all night. I’ve wrapped my arms around him and snuffled my nose into his still-baby-soft skin, that sweet place where his yellow hair curls at the base of his neck. All this does nothing to heal the world, but it, too, is something I can do in the face of that photo.
This week, I want to read healing stories. I want the lectionary to be full to brimming with miracle stories and redemption. But it isn’t. Proverbs has Wisdom crying out in the street, and, in the Gospel, we hear the loud questions of Christ. Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am? These questions sound harsh in light of that photo.
Who do you say that I am?
Who is Christ when children’s bodies wash up on the shore? When people are treated like cargo, smuggled and abandoned, forced to flee and shut out, rejected so easily?
Becky Roushorne-Lau is right: seeing is hard. In Alan Kurdi’s small body, in all the children’s bodies and the mothers and fathers, all the faces of those who look only for space to live in peace, we also see the questioning face of Christ.
Who do you say that I am?
On the road to Caesarea Philippi, the disciples begin to offer answers – Elijah, John the Baptist, they suggest and then Peter declares him Messiah. But no one yet breathes the name of God. The road that leads to that revelation still stretches long ahead of them, and they, too, will know that seeing is hard.
It is interesting that this conversation happens on the road to Caesarea Philippi, which is a Roman town at the base of Mount Hermon. That’s the mountain mentioned in Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when kindred live in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard…it is like the dew on Hermon.
Caesarea Philippi is also close by the ancient Way of the Sea, sung of by Isaiah in the verses that precede his incarnational hymn: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness, on them light has shined…
This is a place where questions have been asked before. This is a place where connections have been questioned and a new truth glimpsed.
Accidents of geography, perhaps, or ancient metaphors offered up by landscape. But I see in these small details the slow coming-into-focus that our scriptures graciously provides in the face of our own echoing questions.
… and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.