Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Was Jesus a refugee?

The question has come up lately in light of Syrian refugees and the problems of security risks coupled with receiving such refugees (especially knowing that one of the culprits of the Paris bombing was disguised as a Syrian refugee). Responding to such concerns, some have said, "Don't let them in the country; it would endanger our citizens." On the other hand, some have argued, "We need to let them in, despite the risk. It's the Christian thing to do. After all, Jesus was once a refugee." Both are a response to Christian values, in this case, the love of neighbor.

I'm still not sure what I'd do if the decision were up to me. I guess I lean more toward the risk of mercy, but I certainly understand those who want to guard against that risk. After all, we are at war (or at least, ISIS is at war with us). I like Bishop Olson's (RCC-Fort Worth) comment: "As Catholics and Christians, we cannot succumb to fear by closing our doors and hearts to all refugees because of the evil of a few." At the least, maybe we could round up some cruise liners to do the job and park them in the Mediterranean.

But back to the question, was Jesus a refugee? Well . . . yes and no . . . sort of. He was a refugee in that his family once sought refuge in Egypt. But no, he was not a refugee in the sense that his situation does not fit the modern definition of the Geneva Convention on Refugees. According to which, a refugee is "a person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is unable to obtain sanctuary from their home country or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country."

The one that comes closest is "political opinion." And that would just be the baby Jesus (who presumably did not have many political opinions at the time), not his parents. But of course, we are typically talking about a class of people, not just one person who is threatened with murder. Perhaps "living in exile" is a better fit in this case. Jesus fled to Egypt because King Herod sought to kill him. And Herod wanted to kill him because it was foretold that a new King of the Jews had been born.

Jesus was not alone in being endangered by Herod's jealousy. The massacre of all the innocent baby boys of Bethlehem was, shall we say, overkill. (Perhaps that's where the term originated.) Scarcely a day passed where there was not an execution under Herod’s regime. Herod killed two of his brothers-in-law, his wife Mariamne, and two of his own sons to ward off possible threats to his throne.

We find the story in Matthew 2:13-15. "Now when [the Magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.' And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt have I called my son'." When Herod died and the danger was passed, they went back home to Nazareth.

What prompted this post was all of the exaggerations you see about this issue. Such as that the Holy Family were undocumented immigrants. There is no evidence to support this, and in fact it would be totally out of character since two of the three are believed to be sinless. We also see claims that they were homeless in Bethlehem. Or that they were refugees in Bethlehem. In his column at the Huffington Post, Ryan Gear claimed, "The nativity scene, after all, depicts a Middle Eastern family who were looking for a place to stay, only to be told there was no room for them." I guess he missed the verse that explains they were "fleeing" Nazareth so they could go register for the census and pay taxes. Or if that's not enough, Jesus was (according to Nancy Pelosi) a Palestinian refugee, fighting for the liberation of Palestine just like they do today.
The bottom line is this: let's stopping using Jesus as cannon fodder in our public policy arguments. The implication that either side is anti-Jesus simply does not belong here. I understand the temptation. But it comes across as irreverent and undignified, unchristian behavior.

1 comment:

Feed Room Five said...

Well said. I do wonder however if those you claim to be on the side of 'mercy' will have any 'mercy' left on those, if there are any, who die as a result of their 'mercy'. To paraphrase St. Augustine: am I loving my neighbor, when I do not stop someone from destroying me neighbor?