Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Go And Do Likewise: Refugees and the Good Samaritan

Today I saw images from Magnus Wennman's photo project, "Where the Children Sleep." It features photographs of children among the refugees fleeing Syria (about half of the 4 million refugees are children)--images like the two below, each paired with brief stories about the children depicted:

Take the time to scroll through all the images and accompanying narratives. Meditate on their meaning. These children are victims of ISIS and their ilk, victims of extremism and ideological hate, victims of the same agents of terror who attacked Paris on Friday. They are beaten and bloodied, stripped of their homes and possessions, some of them half-dead. They are lying on the side of the road.

And now meditate on these words from Luke 10: 25-37:

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
There are victims of terrorist violence lying on the side of the road. We might choose to pass on the far side, frightened by those who say that perpetrators of terrorist violence are hiding among these victims. Perhaps something along those lines inspired the priest: he saw the victim and thought, "The robber might be near, waiting to pounce if I pause to help this poor victim."

There are victims of terrorist violence lying on the side of the road. We might choose to pass on the far side because they're one of "them": Muslims, our enemies, part of an undifferentiated mass of "others" whose lives don't matter to us as much as our own. Perhaps the Levite thought something along those lines: "My life matters more."

"But wait," you say. "There are other reasons to stay on the far side of the road. What if the Samaritan had been traveling with his son? Would Jesus have praised the Samaritan then? Putting his own son at risk for a stranger? We have our own children to look out for. Our first duty must be to them."

I can't tell you what Jesus would have said had the expert in the law offered this "what if." Perhaps we've become better at justifying ourselves since that legal expert crossed paths with Christ. With enough time to meditate on His parables, we're better at coming up with rebuttals.

Could terrorists be lurking amidst the sea of refugees, masquerading as victims in order to slip into the US?

Sure. But that approach to piercing our borders would require that they risk their lives on tiny boats, court starvation on the road, sleep on the cold dirt for weeks alongside the weeping children and mothers who are the victims of their own acts of terror. They'd likely be placed in some out-of-the-way community not-of-their-choosing along with their victims, with few resources of their own and little control over whether they are situated with access to their terrorist network or the means of committing terrorism--assuming, of course, that they are still determined to commit acts of terrorism after months of surviving alongside their victims and building bonds of solidarity with them.

They might get in that way. Or they might recruit someone with a clean record who can secure a student visa. As noted in one article, "There are many ways to come to the United States. Comparatively the refugee resettlement program is the most difficult short of swimming the Atlantic." Of all the ways extremists might pierce our walls, this is hardly the most promising. There are so many other ways they might threaten our security.

Of course we must care for our children. But there are children lying on the road.

Of course we should be careful not to needlessly expose those in our care to serious threats. But threats are everywhere. Perfect security is impossible.

In a world with imperfect security, compassion is all the more crucial. The compassion of strangers may be the thing that saves our children in their moments of greatest need. It's certainly the only thing that will save those Syrian children in Wennman's photographs.

Let us not create a world where the vain pursuit of perfect security kills the compassion that is so crucial in a world of dangers.

This does not mean we shouldn't act to secure our communities. But in buying more security, how much compassion should we be prepared to sell for incremental gains? How many victims lying on the road should we hurry past? How many times should we offer rebuttals to Jesus' injunction to "go and do likewise"?

If rebuttals to Jesus are the currency of security, how many are we prepared to offer? A dozen? A hundred? Or--given the number of refugees--four million?

I don't know. What I do know is this: If the story of the Good Samaritan does not apply to this moment, it has lost its meaning.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! I recoiled when I heard in the news that one of the Paris terrorists might have slipped in as a refugee. More ammunition to turn away very destitute refugees needing sanctuary from the Western world. I think the Jesus way is often the way of risk. Let us all develop some grit and chutzpah to do the right thing.