Jesus on Refugees and Responsibility

In a new poll released by Pew Research, only 25% of white Evangelicals responded saying they believe their country has a responsibility to help refugees. For many reasons, I find this deeply troubling. First, for the distinct way white Evangelicals have broken off from the mainstream. (51% of all people surveyed and 63% of Black Christians recognize this responsibility) But second, because this seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the teachings of Jesus.

In a famous passage in Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story. In the end, the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them based on how they treated “the least of these” among them. Check out Matthew 25:31-46 for the full story.

Most of us have heard this before, but what we might not have noticed is exactly who Jesus is speaking to here. The NIV has translated this passage, “all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another” but this is not what the Greek literally says. What the text actually says is that “all the ethnos will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another.” In our highly individualized culture, we may wish to believe that God treats us all as individuals, holding none of our collective sins against us, but that does not seem to be what Jesus is saying here. In fact, it appears that what we do together, for good or for ill, is just as important to God.

Our responsibility to “the least of these” comes in many forms. It comes in the personal individual choices we make to be generous and gracious. It comes in the collective decision we make as communities and churches. And, and this is important if we want to take this story seriously, it comes in the ways we as nations come together to make decisions. In other words, how you vote is part of how you treat the least of these. And when your nation (or people group, or ethnicity) breaks away from your responsibility to "the least" it is a time to lament our collective sin.

Now, how can we be responsible as a country? How do we care in ways that do not overwhelm our resources? How do we properly vet and welcome refugees? All of these are good and important questions. But only, after we have acknowledged our responsibility before the Divine. If we won't do that, then Jesus has a name for us.

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