Do you remember the story of the ship that capsized off the coast of Greece last month, killing hundreds of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to find a better life in Europe? You could be forgiven if you don’t remember much. I myself can recall scant coverage of the tragedy in the US news media. You would think an incident with deaths in such numbers would make more of an international splash, but at least here on these shores, most of what we heard was crickets.
Now contrast this story with another sea-related tragedy that happened around the same time: the implosion of the Titan submersible vehicle taking a handful of billionaires to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to look at the wreckage of the Titanic. Do you recall how much press coverage that got here in the United States? And not only round-the-clock media attention but also untold millions (or even billions) of dollars spent on an ultimately fruitless search and rescue operation. Coast Guard units from multiple nations searched for days for a craft that apparently imploded about an hour and a half into its dive, killing all five passengers.
Let me be clear: I wish to express no disrespect to the victims of the Titan implosion. I recall at the time imagining what it must have been like inside those cramped quarters as the passengers became aware that something was terribly wrong and that their lives were about to end. It must have been excruciatingly terrifying, and I sympathize with all those who lost loved ones in that accident.
But there is a problem when a fishing vessel carrying upwards of 750 people goes down, resulting in the deaths of maybe 300, and the attention that should have been given to those lives goes instead to five ultra-wealthy passengers who paid a quarter of a million dollars each to ride down to the bottom of the ocean to see some 111-year-old wreckage and died when the intense pressure crushed the hull of their ship. The victims of the wreck in the Mediterranean were among the poorest of the poor, and they dared the risky trip because they were desperate to leave the war zones and economic disaster areas their home countries have become. On top of that, a fair number of them may have been on the boat against their wills, having possibly been abducted by human traffickers. But instead of lingering over the fate of these “tired, poor, huddled masses,” we lavished our attention on some billionaire adventurers who took their lives in their own hands and paid handsomely for the privilege.
Jesus once said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the commonwealth of God. He later moderated that statement by saying that all things are possible for God, but it’s clear that he was not sanguine about the chances of the rich people he knew. Jesus spent his time and energy and compassion among the poor and oppressed of first-century Palestine, going so far as to identify himself with them intensely. He said that when we do something for “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” we are actually doing it to him. So it is not a stretch to say that Jesus was among the mass of humanity that went into the waters of the Mediterranean last month in a far more profound way than he was inside that submersible with the one-percenters.
There is an old, cynical adage in the news business: “If it bleeds, it leads.” It would be more accurate to say, “If a rich person bleeds, it leads.” Poor people’s tragedies take a back seat.
But we are called to be different. We are called to share Jesus’s priorities by lavishing not only our attention but our sweat, blood, and resources on those he identifies as his siblings. They are, after all, our brothers and sisters, too.
Grace and peace,