Jesus is a refugee. Or at least, at one point in his life, he was.
No, this is not some contemporary argument that takes parts and pieces of Biblical text, and frames them in some type of modern or postmodern theological perspective.
If you know your New Testament, then you know that according to Matthew 2:13:
“When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.'”
In today’s terms, this sounds very much like the UNHCR‘s definition of refugee:
“…a refugee is someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
Jesus was a refugee, and if this is so, then does it not mean that all those who now call themselves his followers – Christians – ought to have a special reverence for the stranger? The foreigner? The immigrant? The refugee in our midst? If the Lord you serve was once a refugee and indeed found refuge in a place, then does it not follow that all who find themselves in that position in this new age should be offered a refuge too?
But if looking at the very example of an event in Jesus’ life does not make the point, then let us look at really simple contemporary arguments that take parts and pieces of Biblical text(s) to frame a modern perspective.
There is of course James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Arguably, keeping oneself unstained from the world is the hardest part of that decree because we’re always dealing with the parameters of what that means in terms of sin and grace – complex subjects. Looking after widows and orphans though? That seems fairly straightforward. Notice it does not specify the religion, the race, or the country said orphans and widows should come from.
Then of course there’s the parable of the Good Samaritan, from the Gospel of Luke. You know the story – a traveller is left for dead after being beaten. A priest and a Levite – supposedly decent people who believe in goodness and righteousness continue on and pass him by. But it was the Good Samaritan – the person with the worse reputation who unexpectedly helped him. An interpretation of what Jesus is trying to teach here is that it doesn’t matter what you are known for and what you think you stand for and what you preach. In the end, what matters is what you do. It matters most of all what you do when you see another in need.
But if I still haven’t convinced you, we’ll go back to Matthew 25: 44-45: “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'” At this point, Jesus is basically commanding that in order to follow him, it means taking care of the most vulnerable in society. Indeed, does that not include the refugee?
It goes without saying, as one priest put it in a homily once, “that the Bible can say anything you want it to.” And indeed it can. It is not my intention to twist texts that many hold holy and fundamental to their faith, for the purpose of mere political statement. Nor do I enjoy engaging in oversimplification of Biblical texts to make theological arguments. Still, sometimes the lessons are simple – take them for whatever they’re worth.
Moreover, it is my prerogative to recognize that Jesus was indeed a refugee. His divinity did not take away his humanity, and indeed as the perfect man I believe he was, whose concern was always for the most vulnerable and persecuted in society, it’s worth asking, if your faith demands that you ask, what indeed would Jesus do in our current refugee crisis? The texts are glaring at us with answers.
I’m anything but a perfect Christian, much less a perfect person. But if I cannot look at the suffering face, the vulnerable face, the refugee’s face, and see Jesus in him or her, my Christianity is worthless. And I would have failed not only in my faith, but also in my humanity.
Jesus is a refugee.