What has been most depressing to me (and there is much to be depressed about) is the attitude of those who claim to follow Jesus in regard to these, some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
In my short life I have discovered that many Australian (middle-upper class) Christians seem to hold their commitment to Jesus as second-tier in comparison to their nationalistic or political allegiance. Jesus’ commands to care for the least of these seem to take a back seat to the more ‘realistic’ requirements of limiting who it is that we love.
But Jesus makes an interesting statement in Matthew 25:31-46, to which I have just alluded; that if we fail to care for the least of these, it is as if we fail to care for Jesus himself.
Apparently Jesus’ presence is not most potently embodied in times of worship, or prayer, or Bible reading, but rather in the eyes of the poor and needy.
That Jesus himself was a refugee is a point not missed by those Christians who support more compassion towards asylum seekers. While the reality of Jesus’ refugee-hood is not completely analogous to that of today’s asylum seekers coming to Australia, the analogy is neither invalid.
Going a bit deeper though, we discover an uncomfortable theological reality.
The story in Matthew 2 of the flight to Egypt is not simply a story of stand alone asylum-seeking; it is a clear echo of the story of the Israelites in Egypt. The nation of Israel, as you may remember from the story of the Exodus, suffered horribly under the weight of Egyptian slavery and exploitation until God eventually rescued them.
(More specifically Jesus’ escape to Egypt as a child is an echo of Moses’ escape down the river as a child [the first "boat person"?]).
God’s miraculous rescue of Israel is not without its demands. The Law which is eventually given to Israel is essentially a way of learning how to not be Egypt (the dominant culture). One of the ways the Law demanded Israel’s distinction from societies like Egypt was in its social ethics, that is, how God commanded the Israelites to treat others.
No murdering, no stealing, no dishonest business agreements. Care for the widow, the child, the poor and…
(you guessed it)
… the refugee/asylum seeker (“alien”).
And the story of Jesus echoes this story.
Jesus will eventually grow older, like Moses, to lead a group of people to liberation (“Christians”) whereby they will forego conforming to the dominant culture (Rome/America/whatever) in order to be his unique people of love and mercy. They too will need to demonstrate care for the most needy people (of which Jesus was included as a baby).
Do you see the implication?
The story of the flight to Egypt does more than simply help us remember an earlier story – it is meant to recall the meaning of that story including, I think, the social demands it entails.
More than that, Jesus literally identifies with the poor and marginalised, including the asylum seeker. It is no wonder that he says that the way we treat the poor equates to the way we have treated him.
In this way, claims about the apparent “illegality” of “boat people” should be irrelevant to the Christian; in any case seeking asylum, regardless of mode of transport, is not illegal (no matter what Alan Jones says). Even if it were, Christians are called to challenge dominant structures of injustice (Egypt) with the endless love and compassion of God. We are to challenge systemic injustice, even when it is legislated – this is what Jesus did throughout his ministry, including the apparent breaking of Jewish laws that held the first century Palestinian peasantry in the grip of economic turmoil.
Can a Christian follow Jesus by appealing to national laws, which condemn innocent and desperate people, at the expense of obeying the law of Christ?
Or, perhaps more damning is the question of whether we are willing to forego nationalistic boundary retention (a concern of the first century Pharisees, by the way) for the sake of embracing the presence of Jesus as found in the eyes of the poor, including asylum seekers.
That is to say, don’t bother seeking the presence of Jesus in prayer or worship if you aren’t interested in seeking it in the poor.
Posted on May 10, 2011, in Advocacy, Culture & Art, Current Events, New Testament, Politics and tagged Asylum Seekers, Boat People, Egypt, Exodus, Jesus, Least of These, Liberation, Matthew 25:31-46, Moses, Nationalism, Refugees. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.