Jesus was a Refugee

June 22, 2018 by Gregg DeMey

Jesus was a refugee. It’s a simple, objective observation worthy of consideration in today’s heated American political environment.

Jesus was a refugee. Merriam-Webster defines refugee as: “One that flees; especially: a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.”

Jesus, Joseph and Mary were refugees. They fled their home country of Israel to escape the murderous jealousies of King Herod. In response to a divine warning—and presumably some corroboration from good old common sense—they made their way to Egypt, far beyond Herod’s aggressive grip.

Where precisely did Jesus live in Egypt? How long was his family there? The Bible remains silent on these questions. In all likelihood, they would have sought out the established community of Jews in the city of Alexandria. Though, a remembrance of Jesus’ family in Egypt is preserved in Matariya, now absorbed into the suburbs of Cairo, a spot understood to be a stopping place on the Holy Family’s journey to find refuge and safety.

While the Bible tells us that after Herod’s death, Jesus’ family returned to their home country, their choice of residence was still driven by fear and uncertainty. Matthew 2:2 says that Joseph did not return to Judea in the south because “he was afraid to go there,” so they settled in the northern backwater of Nazareth in Galilee.

Jesus was a refugee—his childhood marked by the threat of persecution and violence. As a boy, Jesus would have understood the fear and anxiety lining the faces and choices of Mary and Joseph.

I make these observations about Jesus in order to make two points:

  • Because the Only Begotten Son of God was a refugee, those of us who follow in his footsteps should recognize a solidarity between the Divine and all those who are driven to flee their home countries to escape danger or persecution. As Christians, because of Jesus, compassion must be our first and best word when it comes to talking about a response to our world’s refugee crisis. Jesus’ life forces me to ask: “How badly would I have to be suffering in order to leave my current home with only modest provisions, pack my family, walk hundreds (thousands!) of miles and start a new life in a place where I had no status and likely didn’t even know the language?” How terrifying would life have to be to make me conclude that that was my best option?!
  • Jesus really is remarkable! His adult life bears no scars of the fear, anxiety, or scarcity of his early years. Rather, Jesus IS the peace of God. The instability of his family of origin was a necessary ingredient in shaping the Prince of Peace. Jesus is the one who calms storms and calms fears. Jesus is so confident of the abundant presence of God’s love that he can give his very life’s breath in the ultimate act of trust.

These observations are not intended to paint every refugee as a saint.

These observations are not meant to recommend any particular political direction. The tension between personal compassion, societal compassion, and the sovereign borders of nations is an incredibly complicated tension to manage. Understatement!

This week we Americans have perhaps settled on a good and righteous conclusion: it is wrong to separate children from their well- intentioned parents. A small corollary has also emerged: the younger the children are, the more unjust a forced separation is.

I’m proud of our country for having enough conscience and backbone to cry out about the injustice we beheld in Texas. I’m grateful that President Trump, a leader who is generally firm of opinion and slow to apologize, issued an executive order to end the worst aspect of our border enforcement policy.

We are imperfect people, but thank God that the warmth of compassion still lives within us.

Peace to you,
Pastor Gregg

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