We hear stories almost every day in the news about refugees who try to come to Australia via the sea. They are called ‘boat people’ or ‘illegal asylum seekers’. We lock them away for processing or send them to our neighbouring countries. Politicians run their campaigns around preventing these people from getting to Australia. Sometimes we, as a nation, even question whether these people are actually genuine because they spend so much of their money to get here. Tragically, sometimes these thoughts are even echoed by followers of Christ.
I find this difficult to hear especially when I think about Jesus himself. We may try to make a case that his taking on the fullness of humanity was a form of refugee status from heaven, but I don’t think this idea is helpful. All we need to do is look at his life. Matthew stresses in his account of Jesus’ birth that he was refugee. He doesn’t use those exact words, but the sentiment is clear. Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus had to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt because of persecution. Jesus knows all too well what it is like to flee from danger because he experienced it. He can relate to the pressures those who are fleeing experience. He can understand what it is like to be away from home. Jesus can empathise with the refugee because he was one too.
For Jesus’ family Egypt was a natural place for Jews to go to seek refuge. This is seen throughout the Old Testament as time and time again people headed to Egypt as a means to escape from enemies or famine. Egypt was part of the Roman Empire but unlike the Judean region it did not experience political and social discontent or revolutions. At around the time of Christ it is estimated that there were approximately 1,000,000 Jews living in Egypt. So when the family headed south they were going to a region of peace where they could easily integrate with those who shared their beliefs. Nonetheless they were refugees. They were been forced to flee their home because of oppression.
What Would I Do?
I cannot help but think about Jesus when I consider how refugees seem to be treated in our nation. How would I treat Jesus if he arrived on our shores? Would I lock him up for processing? Would I up speak out against detention? Or would I go to greet him and minister to him? These are some of the questions that I cannot escape from because I know that my God, in Jesus, became a refugee.
If, like me, you too struggle with some of these questions, I want to encourage you with the words of Jesus, “whenever you one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me” (Mat. 25:40 Msg). With this in mind I encourage you to take some action. Let your local politician know your concerns. Use social media to be a voice for the voiceless. Find out how you can hear and support refugees.
The websites below are just some that have more information about asylum seekers:
Some challenging articles on refugees from The Bible Society Australia: