As the plight of Syrian refugees becomes a more common knowledge to us here in the West, we've seen some shocking responses to the deep needs of these displaced people.
Hungarian and German families stand beside the road to greet refugees with food, water, and words of welcome.
The Pope welcomed two refugee families into the Vatican, and called on European Catholics to follow his example.
An Egyptian billionaire offered to buy a deserted island from Italy or Greece to provide both temporary housing for those who wish to return to Syria, as well as a new permanent home for those wanting to start anew.
These supererogatory moves warm my heart. But, of course, others move away from the posture of welcome and instead deny any assistance at all.
Here in the U.S. we have the infrastructure to welcome thousands more, but we've capped it at only 2,000 for this year. The president is considering an increase, but nothing is assured.
Perhaps most depressingly, some countries are actively turning away refugees, including Israel, who is building a border fence on the Jordanian border to prevent immigration and refused to welcome any of their Syrian neighbors as refugees. Israel already has a fence at the Golan Heights, where the borders of Israel and Syria meet.
This is heartbreaking on a number of levels. The Torah, the holy book of Israel, has a number of things to say about immigrants and refugees.
Deut 27:19 - “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”
Lev 19:33-34 - "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
Now, I don't mean to proof text here, because someone might bring up the fact that Israel was called to eradicate foreign peoples from the land of Canaan when they inherited it. This is true, and something we have to wrestle with theologically and culturally as people of faith. But once the land was theirs, God called them to become a bastion of hospitality to the nations, to treat those who came to the land as people of God, to welcome strangers as family, to give immigrants the same justice due to the Hebrew people, precisely because Israel knew what it was like to be strangers when they were deprived of justice in Egypt!
As this crisis continues, I think we must repent of our own refusal to inhabit this welcome to strangers. We too are building fences to keep out people in need, many coming from Central and South America. We too have the resources and the abilities to alleviate the suffering faced by those whose countries are torn apart by war, poverty, and natural disaster.
We must repent, not of our good fortune, but of those times when we've refused to share our comfort, our affluence, and our privilege with those who desperately need it. Now, that means Syrian refugees, displaced people all over the world, and victims of too many recent storms, wildfires, and natural disasters.
Repentance includes a change in response. We not only admit our wrong and ask for forgiveness, but we commit to changed behavior as well. How can we as a people make a difference? Trying to influence our government is surely a step in the right direction, but we may also provide tangible functions of relief with our daily lives. We can partner with organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to sponsor refugee families and help them navigate the cultural differences they face. We can work with Lutheran Disaster Response to provide immediate relief and Lutheran World Relief to provide long term care and community development. We can commit to political and economic practices that value the lives of others rather than prefer our lives first. We can, like the Pope encouraged, become hosts ourselves to welcome people into our homes and provide safety for displaced peoples in order to offer relief and restoration in the name of Jesus.
As the needs arise, let us respond in the image of Jesus, with open arms and a future of hope.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.