Archive for January, 2017

Jesus, the Refugee

It was one of those family stories. The kind that get told over and over again. The stories in which your identity is both rooted and revealed. No matter how often he heard the story, his father could never tell him quite what it was that woke him in the middle of the night. He could only say that he woke suddenly with a sickening sense danger was close. He KNEW he needed to get his family away, immediately. When they left, his father didn’t know where they would go or what kind of reception they would find when they got there. All he knew was that staying was not an option.  

The boy was too young to remember that terror filled night and the days and weeks that followed. He did remember, vividly, what it was to be a stranger in a strange land. To be different in speech, dress, customs. To be laughed at and ridiculed simply for his presence. To work long exhausting hours with his mother and father to eke out a living. To be told, “You’re not wanted here. Go home!”

Then, one day, word came, “The king is dead.” The boy remembered the joy on the faces of his mother and father. “Home,” they told him excitedly, “we’re going home.” The boy did remember the journey home through the scorching heat of the desert and freezing cold nights, the days when food and water were scarce, when they were dependent upon the hospitality of strangers. He remembered the endless miles of walking.

When they arrived back in Nazareth, he remembered how the joy turned to grief. The sense of impending danger that had driven his father to flee with his family in the middle of the night materialized into horror when the king’s armies exploded from the dark of night bringing death and destruction. There was not a family left untouched by the violence of that night. So.many.children.murdered. All for the madness of a politician.

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2.14-15a). Those verses are a stark reminder that Jesus was a refugee, a small child whose parents were so desperate they would take unimaginable risks in a bid for survival. Little Alan Kurdi must have been about the age Jesus was when his father was awakened in the middle of the night with an impulse to flee. The image of that little body on the beach in his red shirt and tennis shoes can only be framed by this long ago story of Jesus.

Jesus’ humanity was shaped by his experience as a refugee. When Jesus was traveling the countryside as a young man teaching his followers, wasn’t it his own family’s experience that informed his teaching?

The vulnerability of life in a strange land was still fresh in his mind when he responded to the crowd’s question, “Lord, 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, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ … ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.’ (Matthew 25.37-40).”

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