I often think about how in the bible, Hebrews 5, that it says Jesus was made perfect through his sufferings. I think about this because of the wonder of a perfect person, Jesus, who was perfect in all eternity before coming into this world, was made perfect. It seems to be a contradiction until I balance it with Hebrews 4 where it talks about Jesus is sympathetic with us in our weaknesses. Why? Because he lived in this world as a man. He experienced the hardships of this life.
Among the things he suffered was being a refugee because as an infant and toddler Herod was seeking to kill him. He also encountered bigotry because of where he was from, which was Nazareth. One of his own followers exhibited this when he said, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
In today’s climate of racism and bigotry towards refugees and immigrants, I wonder what Jesus would say to people who come to him to ask for help in prayer and yet have prejudice towards refugees and immigrants. Would it be a gentle rebuke or would it be something stronger such as things he said to the religious leaders?
This thought should be a source of pause for all of us who pray to Jesus whatever our denomination is whether evangelical, Lutheran, Catholic etc. Whatever branch of Christianity we come from, we are seeking to follow a person who himself lived his first years in this life as a refugee and also faced bigotry because of where he was from. If we express prejudice towards others openly or keep it hidden and subtle, this thought should stop us and hit us like a ton of bricks:
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…..” The world meaning ALL PEOPLE. Who are we to hate people God loves?
The good news is that all sin can be forgiven. Racism and prejudice are sins but they can be forgiven and also overcome. We can overcome these sins in our hearts with the help of the person who experienced it himself- Jesus.
At first glance, it would seem that western Christians, especially those in the U.S., have nothing in common with refugees that come into our country or are still in refugee camps whether the camps are in Thailand, Malaysia, Iraq etc. After all, we live the most affluent lifestyle of any country in history.
If we stop and think about it though, we will realize that we share a common theme- suffering. Western Christians do not suffer the same as our refugee friends. We do not flee from governments or hate filled groups trying to kill us. However, the person we seek to follow, our Lord Jesus, suffered for us. His suffering began shortly after his birth when his earthly step father Joseph was warned to take the child and Mary and flee to Egypt because Herod’s troops were coming to kill Jesus. His suffering on our behalf culminated in his death on the cross.
Suffering is part of the Christian heritage in this world. It has been since the birth of the church when Christians fled persecution at the hands of people like Saul of Tarsus. Christians hid in the catacombs in Rome to escape persecution. Christians are still persecuted in this day and age in many places in the world.
It is hard for Western Christians to understand suffering as our brothers and sisters in many places in the world do, but it is part of our heritage. I often wonder what Jesus thinks of Western Christians attitudes and actions toward refugees. There is a theme in the bible about sharing in suffering. The verses are related to sharing in the suffering of Christ or the apostles, yet there is connection. Some joined Paul in his suffering through giving and prayers.
It is my conviction that we can join in the suffering of Christ by reaching out to those who have suffered. In many communities in America, refugees have been relocated from various parts of the globe. We can reach out to them in friendship to help them with their new lives. For refugees in camps around the world, there are ministries reaching out to help them with basic needs. We can support those efforts. The least we can do is to pray for refugees. Imagine the impact if we skipped a few visits to a coffee shop each month to support an effort to assist refugees.
But first of all, let’s try to imagine what our Lord Jesus thinks about refugees since after all, he was a refugee at the beginning of his earthly life.