Watching Stephen Colbert testify before Congress in the persona of the host of his comic right wing talk show was a bumpily surreal experience. Bumpy because through the incongruity of his testimony delivered with almost unrelieved sarcasm, came real glimpses of the plight of illegal farm workers that, after all was said and done, his celebrity helped illuminate. His presence forced the media which had ignored similar hearings to come and hang on his every word, titter and televise his message. Even mediated through C-Span, the tension and discomfort of all in the room—from the farm workers to the academics to the lawmakers came through.
This Sunday, in the Mystical Rose Oratory at Chaminade University, listening to Fr. Tim Eden reflect on the story of the unseeing rich man, Dives, who walks past, maybe over, the suffering Lazarus, hungry, ill and dying at his doorstep, it became even clearer why what Stephen Colbert did was important and in keeping with the lesson of the parable. His antics forced the first necessary act of seeing and hearing those whom we so often render invisible and voiceless by our indifference or self-absorption.
Asked why he was interested in the issue of immigration reform, Colbert stepped out of character for the first time and truth broke through truthiness “I like talking about people who don’t have any power,” Colbert said.
“It seemed like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave. That’s an interesting contradiction to me. And whatever you do for the least of my brothers… he trailed off leaving the line from the Gospel for his listeners to complete. “These seem like the least of our brothers right now,” he added.
In the Gospel parable, Dives, condemned to Hell after he dies, begs Abraham to send someone from the land of the dead to warn his brothers of the eternal damnation that awaits them if they do not change their ways. But Abraham tells him it is pointless because if his brothers are not mindful of the teachings of Moses and the prophets, they will pay no heed even if someone should rise from the dead to warn them.
But what if the messenger is Stephen Colbert?
This resonates with me due to the severe shortage of workers we have in Florida now due to the immigration “stuff”…. for months they posted how young, high school graduates and college kids cannot get jobs in our area where the fields lay fallow……..I don’t understand this. As kids, wasn’t our rite of passage to either go to Lanai to pick pineapple or to work in the pineapple factors of Dole and Delmonte? Those were jobs that we gave our own “brand” of cool to back in the day……….
I think it’s interesting that Colbert is a Catholic as well. He takes his Catholic commitment rather seriously–unlike some of the Catholics on the congressional panel listening to him. The plight of migrant workers is all around us and we literally turn a blind eye to their/our issues. The plight of the tomato pickers in Immokalee, FL makes me ashamed at times to like tomatoes. Have all of us who boycotted lettuce and grapes at the urging of another great Catholic, Cesar Chavez, forgotten what the power of a boycott can do?