Jesus was a brown-skinned baby born into occupied territory, saved by his loving parents. They fled across a border into a safer country to escape King Herod, who felt his power threatened and who mass-murdered infants. That made Jesus and his parents refugees. As an imperfect follower of the refugee Jesus during this season, I have been wondering, what in the world is going on?
So, what are the senators, governors or presidential candidates, who have claimed to be Christian, doing when they oppose welcoming the longstanding biblical admonition to welcome the stranger? (Leviticus 19:34, 24:22, Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Hebrews 13:2, Romans 15:7, 1 Peter 4:9) Jesus told his disciples, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…Then the righteous will answer him, ‘When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in…? Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35, 37-38, 40)
The condemnation of the refugees and the strangers (e.g. the old “not in my neighborhood” attitude) is fear-based. Logically, do we need to be so afraid? Far more Americans have been killed by homegrown gun violence than foreign terrorism. Yet, we seem to be disempowered by congress to do anything substantive about that. Any individual’s chance of being killed by terrorists is simply not that great. (And I will certainly report anything suspicious.)
My husband Jim and I have a friend, who I will call Alex, who spends his time listening to a radio station while he drives his truck and works as a painter. This particular station’s programs predict gloom and doom for the world twenty-four hours a day. Alex believes it all. His entire world view is shaped by his listening to these talk shows. Whenever we see Alex, Jim gets into a discussion with Alex about the fact that Hawaii, where we all live, has not seen any Ebola cases or Daesh fighters and the likelihood that it will not. Alex’s fears seem partially assuaged. However, the next time we see him, he is full of fear and worry. He has continued to massage the messages of the radio station in his mind, listening to it constantly. I have learned something from Alex.
What we pay attention to is a matter of choice. Do you need a mantra? “Fear not” is such common advice in the Christian scriptures. Do you have a purpose today? It could be doing your work to the best of your ability. It does not have to be complicated. To show active good will to everyone you encounter (i.e. to love) is a purpose. Thérèse of Lisieux prayed, “Help me to simplify my life by learning what You want me to be and becoming that person.” Focusing upon what is ours to be and do brings a sense of calm intent.
Along with many others, I imperfectly follow my refugee teacher and my calling. I welcome the stranger because who knows? All of us might be changed for the better. And we might be entertaining angels without being aware of it!