Jesus loves Syrian refugees and expects you to do the same. Actually, Jesus loves all Syrians – not just the refugee subset – but the issue that seems to have raised such a debate this Fall is the response of the Church to the Syrian refugees. I am admittedly late to the game in terms of this discussion and part of my tardiness is intentional. I have so little knowledge of all the factors at play when it comes to Middle Eastern politics and American public policy I hesitate to voice any opinion about things that I know so little about. (I think this would be a step in the right direction for many!) I am certain enough, however, that Jesus loves Syrian refugees and expects me to love them too.
Jesus knows it will be a challenge, not just to love Syrian refugees in the 21st century, but to love people at any time who we are not in the habit of loving. That’s why one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament is all about loving people. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates how hard it is, especially for religious people, to love people that were not part of their plan. It’s still hard.
Confusing The Issue
When it comes to the current Syrian refugee crisis I have to start with the disclaimer that may seem rather obvious. There are lots of complex issues in play that I have no right to comment on. Civil war, human rights, foreign policy, homeland security, Middle Eastern stability and a host of other topics are all involved in the equation. I can’t speak with any authority to any of those points but I don’t think that excuses me from responding to people in need. I think there are two opposite errors to avoid. First, it is erroneous to argue that the gospel has nothing to say about the refugee crisis. Look no further than Matthew 25 for the clear call to minister to people in physical need. Second, it is just as erroneous to prescribe the gospel as a governmental mandate or foreign policy rubric. It is neither. As Tim Keller has expressed in his book Center Church the Gospel is not conservative or liberal ideology it is “other”. So what is the other response to the Syrian refugees?
The Simple Command
Love your neighbor. It is on the surface the most basic of instructions. Found in the Old Testament, repeated by Jesus and inseparably linked by Him to loving God in the New Testament, it is at the center of the teaching of Jesus. As basic as it sounds the command turns out to be very complex in its application. There is a running debate throughout the rabbinic commentary on the Torah defining who exactly is my neighbor. Each Rabbi voices an opinion on who qualifies and who does not for the neighbor classification. In essence they are answering the questions, “who do I have to love? who am I allowed not to love? and what does loving them actually require?” Not much has changed in over 2000 years.
Jesus was aware then and is now that we would struggle with these questions. It was in response to just such a question that He tells perhaps His most famous story – the parable of the Good Samaritan. While the parable is commonly used to encourage general acts of kindness Jesus seemed to have a more direct and challenging lesson in mind. Many have observed that Jesus painted the picture of the person in need as “naked and half dead” specifically to indicate there was no way of identifying the person by dialect or dress. The point? It was just a person, a human being in the most general classification and therefore, according to Jesus, someone to love. Jesus effectively changes the question from “who do I have to love?” to “who do I have opportunity to love?”
This is the inescapably simple command of Jesus and the response to the refugee crisis that calls everyone who is a Christ follower to action. Whenever you have opportunity to love someone, even or especially someone who was not on your list, you should love them. Of course the parable goes on to describe the personal risk and cost of loving like this which is why we so often dodge the issue. For all of our gymnastics to avoid the directions and smokescreens to divert our attention the command remains simple; love your neighbor. Start there and see where obedience takes you.
What would it mean for you to love people today when you have the opportunity? What opportunities has God given that you have not responded to? What would it mean for churches to answer this question on a regular basis?
For more information on refugee resettlement through World Relief visit https://worldrelief.org/refugee-resettlement
For more blog posts by Reid, visit reidrobinette.blogspot.com