Here’s what is happening in the last half of Matthew 2 in a nutshell: the political environment in Israel grows alarmingly dangerous, and because of the threat of death and violence, Joseph takes the Child and his mother, Mary, and flees from the hostile land of Israel to the relative safety of Egypt, where he lives until the danger has passed.
Sounds like the Middle East today, doesn’t it? We see the Child Jesus forced to flee or risk certain death at the hand of Herod, and we see thousands of Syrians fleeing today or risk certain death at the hands of ISIS.
This shines an important light on the realities of the political environment we see in the Middle East today. Political violence and death have been a part of that culture for much longer than Americans care to admit. Jesus was a refugee forced to flee from the threat of Herod.
How Should We Respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis?
This raises a difficult question for Americans. How should we respond to the request of our president to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States? At the risk of oversimplifying an incredibly complex situation, I see one clear principle in the Matthew narrative that I believe is important when seeking ways to minister to refugees—it is the importance of returning to your homeland. Jesus didn’t flee to Egypt, take up residence and live out the rest of His life in Egypt. As soon as the threat of violence was over, He returned to the Land of Israel.
One of the problems we face with the prospect of bringing Syrian refugees to America is that they will likely live out the rest of their lives here. Is it right to take young people—the very health and vitality of a population—and transport them around the world to a place from which they will never return? Would it not be better to put resources into helping refugees flee to countries neighboring Syria, care for them, and then when the danger of ISIS is removed, help them return home where they can live and serve as productive citizens?
From a military perspective, it doesn’t make sense to transport able-bodied young Syrian men and women to the United States while at the same time arguing we should transport able-bodied young American men and women to Syria to fight their war. I try to picture how Americans would respond if the situation was reversed. Based on what we know of American history, I think it would be safe to assume that most Americans would rather stay and fight for their homeland than flee to another country on the other side of the world.
I recently read an article on Medgar Evers, the civil rights champion of the 1960s. The South was not a safe place to be an African-American civil rights worker in the 1960s. Evers lived with the constant threat of violence and even death, and many encouraged him to flee the South until the political environment cooled down. Not long before he was gunned down by Byron De La Beckwith, he was quoted as saying, “I don’t know whether I am going to heaven or to hell, but I’m going from Jackson.” Evers had the courage and the conviction to stay in Mississippi and fight for the rights of others, but he also had something else–a love for his home and a desire to see it become a better place to live.
I find it hard to believe there are not modern-day Syrians who have the “stay and fight” courage and conviction of a Medgar Evers or Mahatma Gandhi. Would the people of Syria not be better served if we created safe zones within neighboring countries to protect the true refugees–the mothers and their children, the old, and the weak–and then train and equip the young men to fight against the evil that has invaded their country?
I can hear someone now charging, “that’s not compassionate.” Is it compassionate to take the very people who will be needed to rebuild a new Syria after this terrible civil war? Is it compassionate to accept a token 10,000 refugees out of the millions of hurting people just so we can feel good and note we “did our part”? No, my friend, true compassion is being willing to help change the radical Islamic paradigm in Syria in order to lay the foundation for a peaceful, prosperous country that is safe for all people to live. Simply transporting the problems to America is not a compassionate solution.–Chris Eller
This Week’s Core Virtue
Hope (Hebrews 6:19-20): I can cope with the hardships of life and with death because of the hope I have in Jesus Christ.
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