Following Jesus is Ridiculously, Ridiculously Hard (We Should Try Anyway)

To start, let me just expand on what is in that title. Following what Jesus says in the gospels is difficult. It is ridiculously, ridiculously, stupid hard. I believe in grace and God's love for us in spite of our shortcomings. Yet to live out a Christian ethic is immensely challenging. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a saint or a liar and I have a hunch that, in reality, the saint would tell you they find it difficult too.

So when 30 governors (including my own here in South Carolina) have stated that they do not want any Syrian refugees in their state, they are acting out in a natural response. It makes complete and total sense. It follows that old saying that it is better to be safe than sorry. It is the way that most human beings would choose. It just isn't the way of Jesus.

(Somewhat snarky parenthetical: The argument goes that some of these people might be terrorists and therefore we cannot let any of them in. By that logic, shouldn't we just stop letting people birth children? Some of those kids are going to grow up and commit heinous crimes. Do we really want those people in our country?)

Like many, my mind immediately veered towards Matthew 25. If we want to be specific, it is actually Matthew 25:31-46 (the other 30 verses have sort of been co-opted by their more famous parable sibling). Jesus tells one side that they are blessed by God because they saw Jesus hungry and they fed him, thirsty and they gave him something to drink, naked and they clothed him, in prison and they visited him. The group asks Jesus when they ever saw him in those circumstances and Jesus replies that whatever they had done for the "least of these," they had done for him.

(Bible parenthetical: There is some slight pushback on this passage. Some have stated that the main point of the passage is feeding, welcoming, clothing, etc. followers of Jesus rather than a more general "least of these." In the context of a narrow reading, that interpretation might actually be correct. But Jesus speaks elsewhere so often about loving neighbors, loving enemies, treating well those who are different form us, etc. that I believe it renders such a narrow reading of Matthew 25:31-46 moot.)

I wondered, and many others did, if the Syrian refugee crisis might not fall under the same umbrella. The vast majority of these people are fleeing from a catastrophically horrible situation that you and I can scarcely imagine. Yet because of fear, they are being grouped in with their tormentors. I was a stranger seeking refuge, but you assumed that I was a killer. To be a follower of Jesus, we should show hospitality to those in need.

But (there's always a "but"), one might say, there could be terrorists among those refugees. And technically, yes, there could be. Is it fair to deny refuge to everyone if there might exist within their ranks some wolves in sheep's clothing? In the abstract, I think that is an easy answer. Of course, we shouldn't deny refuge to someone just because they happen to be the same race or nationality as a terrorist. But I can also understand why that prospect scares the crap out of people and causes them to lump all Syrians together.

That brings us back to our opening point: following Jesus is difficult. Loving enemies, letting strangers into our midst, and most of what Jesus preaches in the gospel runs against the grain of our nature. It puts us in vulnerable places. It can be risky. But I sincerely believe that if something in life is worthwhile then it is going to involve risk. Love always involves risk. It's never a safe bet.

So let me just say unequivocally that I believe Jesus, who knew a bit of something about being a refugee, would tell Christians to welcome their Syrian brothers and sisters into our country. I don't think the most dire what-if scenarios would deter him. He is a guy who prayed forgiveness for those who were executing him and mocking him as he hung on a cross. That is the way of Jesus. It is not easy, but if we are to call ourselves Christian then we must strive after it.

Let us not be afraid and let us love our Syrian neighbors.

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