Once again the world finds itself in an uproar. The attacks in Paris have left all of us reeling. But it isn’t just Paris. It’s Beruit, Kenya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. For months the nations of the world have tried to respond to the crisis in Syria. Refugees are flowing out of the region, spilling into Europe, Canada, and the United States. In the wake of the most recent terror attacks, fear has reached a fever pitch. Because one of the gunmen in the Paris attacks is thought to be Syrian (and there does seem to be some doubt as to whether he was or not) there has been a massive outcry against allowing in refugees from Syria to enter the US.
As of yesterday, 27 of the governors of the United States have said they will not accept refugees. Presidential candidates are suggesting that only refugees who can prove they are Christians should be allowed in.
Maybe it’s obvious, but let’s be clear: The Syrian people are suffering. They have been shot, killed, chemically attacked, and caught up in a five year civil war. These people have been living in the nightmare of Paris for five years. If I was there, I would want to escape too. I cannot fault the people for wanting to find peace, to gain a little more security, to sleep soundly.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Would we run from the horror and look for a new home? Would we beg, plead, and do what we could to offer our children a better future? Would we fight against the cosmic game of chance that had us born in a war torn country and try and find a place where there is peace?
Hell yes, we would.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’ve been disappointed at the reaction of prominent Christians who have called for the closing of our borders, the demonization of an entire religion, and the xenophobia of a people. There is no bravery or courage in these actions. It is the abandonment of some of the clearest – and hardest – teachings of Jesus.
This brings to mind two of Jesus’ disciples: Judas Iscariot and Peter. One betrayed Jesus. One denied Jesus. Both abandoned Jesus. In a dangerous world, one in which our allegiance to Jesus is regularly challenged, we will be tempted to be Peter or Judas.
Many believed Judas to be a Zealot. His name includes the title “sicarii” which means ‘daggermen.’ The Daggermen were ultra-Zealots of the time of Jesus. Daggermen believed the Messiah would show up, raise an army, and defeat the Romans with the sword. Force was the means by which the Messiah would establish the throne of David.
When it became evident to Judas that Jesus was not going to defeat their enemies with force, Judas betrayed Jesus. Sold him out for thirty pieces of silver.
Peter wasn’t a zealot like Judas, but he was brash. Quick to defend Jesus in word and deed, Peter was convinced he’d never abandon Jesus. But, in a moment of fear, when faced with the uncertainty of his own personal safety, Peter denied Jesus.
Facing fear, will we deny that we know Jesus, belong to Jesus, and have chosen to live according to his values?
Or, in the face of fear, will we choose to love our enemies? To pray for those who persecute us? Do good to those who wish us harm? (Luke 6:27-36)
Will we carry the burden of our enemies two miles? (Matthew 5:41)
Will we give our cloak to the one who demands our tunic? (Matthew 5:40)
Or will we betray Jesus like Judas, selling Jesus out for the illusion of greater security? Will we sacrifice our greatest values – love, compassion, hospitality, kindness – so we can be less afraid? Will we deny that Jesus is who he said he is, that his values are our values for our personal safety?
Or, will we give to the one who asks and not turn away the one that wants to borrow? (Matthew 5:42)
Will we entertain strangers and unexpectantly spend time with angels? (Hebrews 13:2)
Will we feed the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner? (Matthew 25:34-36)
For everyone person who argues back, “But what if your enemies want to kill you?” let’s remember that Jesus sat at the table with the one who would betray him.
Jesus never promises his disciples safety, nor did he say following him would be easy. In fact, he told us to count the cost. Living the way of Jesus is dangerous, upside-down, and foolish. Over and over again takes his disciples to the places where they are uncomfortable – through Samaria, to Caesura Philippi – has them interacting with those who are cultural enemies – Samaritans and tax collectors. Following Jesus takes courage and a bravery that looks like naive foolishness. It’s then, when faced with the apparent foolishness of living like Jesus that we are most likely to look for our thirty pieces of silver or a way to not be associated with Jesus.
There is definitely a time to fight evil. And no doubt, ISIS is evil. But refugees are not. That distinction is being lost and fear is blurring the lines. One we help, one we fight. And we do not sacrifice our helping those who need help because of our fear. We just can’t. Doing so will cause us to give up the greatest of our values – love. More so, it may cause us to give up Christ.
Don’t let fear cause us to be Peter or Judas. And if we’ve played Peter, let’s ask for forgiveness. There’s still time to feed sheep.
Please, don’t give into fear. Yes, there’s ample reason to be afraid. But don’t give into the fear. Fight for justice. Stand up for the oppressed. Welcome the stranger, and perhaps in the process you’ll entertain Angels. Hold on to love, compassion, and hospitality.
Nations are in an uproar. But God breaks the bow. God shatters the spear. God burns the shield.
You? Be still. Know that God is God and ain’t nothing changing that. Be still.
And love your neighbor as yourself.