When certain issues and stories are all-a-swirl in the media, I typically don’t write about them. Most of the time I feel as though they are out of my league and I don’t have anything helpful to add to the conversation. Therefore, another blog post would just add to the media frenzy.
But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Syrian Refugee issue. I understand the importance of thorough vetting as well as people’s fears that terrorists may unknowingly be let in to the country. I greatly sympathize with those whose job it is to thoroughly vet large numbers of refugees. That has to be a hard job. As a citizen of this country I’m not sure how to navigate the complexities of the issue and all the policies that go along with it.
But when it comes to thinking about this issue as a Christian, the response is easy.
In Matthew 25 Jesus talks about separating the righteous and unrighteous at the end of time. The way he divides the two groups is based on how he was treated by each group. He talks about being hungry and thirsty and needing something to eat and drink. He mentions being naked and in need of clothes. He says that he was sick and in need of care. That he was in prison and needed visitors. That he was a stranger and needed to be taken in. He splits the righteous from the unrighteous based on those who met his needs and those who didn’t.
What’s interesting about the passage is that both groups respond to Jesus’ comments in the same way. They say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison?”
Jesus responds saying, “Whatever you did (or in the case of the unrighteousness, what you didn’t do) to the least of these you did to me.”
Now again, I’m not the most qualified person to comment on the living conditions of refugees from war-torn Syria, but I’m pretty sure that they fit Jesus’ description of the “least of these.”
And when Jeb Bush says that he believes that you can prove you are a christian, but isn’t able to say how, perhaps he, and the church at large, needs to re-read Matthew 25.
So should we except Syrian refugees? In my opinion Jesus seems to be pretty clear about the issue. We should.
Now you may respond, “But what if there are terrorists in the mix?”
Fair question. I have two examples in response.
First, in addition to Matthew 25, I’ve also been thinking about the twelve men Jesus selected to be his disciples. Some were fisherman. One was a tax collector. Not sure of the occupations of the others, but one was a traitor, Judas. And at some point Jesus had full knowledge that he was a traitor and would ultimately be a catalyst to his death (John 13:18ff), yet he kept him as a close companion.
Second, before the apostle Paul became a Christian, he in fact was a terrorist. He openly and aggressively persecuted and killed Christians. And when he decided to join the ranks of the other apostles after his conversion, the leaders of the church were apprehensive and hesitant. For all they knew he could have been trying to deceive them so that he could harm them. Yet, they too, brought him into their inner circle.
Jesus never guarantees safety to his followers. If anything he says to expect the opposite; suffering, opposition, and persecution. Jesus expected the same for himself and knowingly made himself vulnerable to attack in the process.
The way of Jesus is scandalous, radical, and unsafe. Anyone who says differently hasn’t carefully read the New Testament. And Jesus is explicitly clear about how we are to treat those who are against us. There are many things in the scriptures that have varying degrees of “faithful” interpretations, but this is not one of them. Jesus says our posture toward our enemies is that we love them and pray for them. Therefore, there’s no justification to dodging the responsibility of helping the least of these due to reasons of safety.
Again, I’m grateful that the decision to receiving this new wave of refugees doesn’t fully fall on my shoulders. It’s no small decision to make. But the God I say that I follow says the way we respond to this issue and treat those who are in need is directly tied to the way that we treat Christ.