(this is a little Lenten series for those who are interested... #11)
In Uganda one summer a mother said to my wife that she would happily give her her child. We wondered how a mother could do that. Then we realised that our luxury of wondering was because we live in a comfortable part of a safe city in an economically wealthy part of the world.
That is the luxury that the parents at the vortex of the refugee crisis, who are risking everything in boats across seas, don’t have. They are not spongers. They are not trying to steal our jobs or health care. They are simply desperate to give their children a better life.
Whatever the detail of Gary Lineker’s BBC contract on what he can and cannot say is, compared to so many other BBC contracts that seem to allow anchors to rant government support at will, the Jesus follower has to be right behind Lineker's argument. A government that wishes to close off the asylum rights of people who arrive in boats is a horrible way to treat fellow humans fleeing terror and danger.
For the follower of Jesus welcoming the refugee is a no brainer. It is simply what we do. Jesus said that those who would get into heaven were those who fed him, gave him a drink, gave him a room and clothes. When do we do this to him? When we do it to the least of these. So, the call is there to respond to the stranger, the homeless, the fleeing asylum seekers.
The Old Testament was also commanding a welcoming of the refugee. It is mentioned in Deuteronomy but expanded on in Leviticus. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The people of God knew what it was to live in another country and were to treat people well, remembering that they were not treated well.
If the Old Testament people of God were concerned with the refugee then the New Testament starts with another such story. Jesus himself was a refugee. That Christmas story tells us that when the death squads hit the streets around Bethlehem Joseph and Mary were those parents heading somewhere else for safety.
It is interesting to then take a wee side-look at why the death squads were sent. Herod was frightened that this baby would take away his place, his power, his comfort.
Are we in danger of becoming the Herod of the refugee story? When our own comfort eradicates our compassion for those in need we have lost something at the core of our humanity. There is no doubt that welcoming batch after batch of refugees into our country might threaten our wealth and comfort. It might be hard to sustain.
Well actually it will be hard to sustain at the same standard of living that we are used to. However, for the Jesus follower our wealth at the cost of other people’s misery is something the prophets condemned.
This is where I feel the refugee crisis becomes a Lenten issue. Lent is about sacrifice. It is about aligning with God’s ways. It is about reversing a world where wealth and comfort and power is the goal to a world of compassion, grace and servanthood. In Lent, we are preparing to stand before the Jesus of Good Friday and respond to his whisper to follow him.
Follow him to what? A safe, wealthy, comfortable world of hymn singing and fish in the lapel of our Saville Row suits. No, follow him to “take up our cross daily and follow me.” If that following is anything it is on the side of the refugee.