Our Lord, the refugee


“Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

A Syrian girl, in Serbia, traveling to Hungary

Read the news — there is a crisis in Europe. Since Croatia officially accepted its very first refugees from Syria three days ago, over 9,000 have showed up there, trying to find a way into the European Union, seeking refuge from their own war torn countries. The travelers are from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, countries that have long been unlivable. Many of them have been on the move for as long as six weeks, walking, running, floating through unimaginable danger to reach the border of the EU. 

And in the face of this influx, there has been all kinds of politicization, argument, and animosity. They will take our jobs. They aren’t really refugees. They came illegally.

And lest we Americans think that we have no part of this crisis, we need only look to the influx of migrants coming across our own borders and think of how we treat those people.  For the average citizen, the situation is the same — foreigners have come seeking refuge from a homeland that is unlivable. Instead of demanding an account of just “how unlivable” their circumstances were, and trying to judge whether their flight was justified, we are clearly directed  in Chrsitian Scripture to be hospitable, helpful, and welcoming toward foreigners — for we all share a connection with one very prominent refugee. 

The gospel of the Refugee 

The gospel story clearly tells of how Jesus was pursecuted in his homeland by King Herod, who sought to kill him while he was still a baby. Jesus’ family fled to Egypt, where they lived until Herod’s  death. And then comes the fulfillment of Old Testament narrative, as Jesus re-enters Israel. 

Jesus, the overcomer, came to fulfill everything that we were supposed to have done, and pay the price we should have paid, so that we could have a relationship with God. And just as Jesus’ people, Israel, came out of Egypt and were supposed to have made all of Palestine their home, now Jesus — the true Israel — comes out of Egypt, through the wikderness, perfectly fulfilling all that his Father asked him to do. 

Coming to Israel, he was now a foreigner in his own land, as he had already been in Egypt. And his reception was much like the one many of us Westerners have shown toward the weary travelers that have come from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan (or Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua…). He even started his own business, a common path for modern migrants and refugees. 

This is about us, not them

I understand that refugees and migrants are dirty and penniless. So was Jesus. There is no other way to imagine a person that traveled through the Sanai desert 2,000 years ago. 

The needs of his family must have been similar to the needs of the thousands that have shown up in our countries in these past few weeks. And the reception offered has been similar: religious people have been averse or indifferent to the arrival of “foreigners”. Local politicians have searched for reasons not to accept people that have nowhere to go. 

I would posit that the way in which we accept foreigners — any foreigners — is in a very important way connected to the way that we accept Jesus into our lives. If we are not ready to accept people who come to us in a way that is so similar to the way in which our Lord came out of Egypt, then how sure are we that we have really accepted Jesus himself into every area of our lives? 

Just as Jesus came, and brought redemption to those who accepted him, we may find that these foreigners have come as his instruments of transformation and redemption, if we will only extend to them the hospitality that the gospel clearly asks of us. 

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