Called to stand in solidarity with the displaced

Liz Stuart, 25 June 2023

Romans 6:1b–11; Matthew 10:24–39

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hungry
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying –
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

This is an extract from a long and very moving poem called ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire, a Somali-British writer. She reminds us that no one would become a refugee by choice and that refugees are the victims of a chain of failure on the part of the world: a failure to deal with violence, to deal with oppression and exploitation, to deal with unstable regimes and searing economic inequality.

Refugees are the victims of a chain of failure on the part of the world: a failure to deal with violence, to deal with oppression and exploitation, to deal with unstable regimes and searing economic inequality.

I think that part of the reason why so many governments end up demonising refugees is that refugees are a permanent reminder of the failures of the world community and/or their decisions coming home to roost. To use the language that Jesus uses in our gospel today, refugees in their very person uncover and bring to light things that take place in the dark and those who would kill both body and soul for the sake of their own interests.

Christians, of course, are obliged to resist any such demonisation. The story of the people of Israel is a story of displacement and being strangers in different lands. As a result, the stranger and foreigner had a particular call upon the hearts and hospitality of the people of Israel. The gospel of Matthew teaches us that Jesus himself as an infant was a refugee from a violent regime and that later Jesus taught his followers that in caring for strangers they were welcoming him.

But our concern for refugees comes from a place deeper than the teaching of our ancestors in faith, or even Jesus himself. Our reading from Romans reminds us that Jesus has taken us all, all of humanity, into himself and brought us with him through death into new life. We are bound together in him with every other human being.

Though our culture may teach us that our responsibility is to ourselves and our families and beyond that it becomes ever paler, our baptism reminds us we are bound together with our sisters and brothers across the world and as members of one body – the body of Christ. When one member suffers all do. We feel compassion, ‘suffer with’ others, because we are part of one another in Christ. When one member suffers, we all feel it.

I think we saw this in response to the displacement of many people from Ukraine. Perhaps it is easier to feel that compassion for people who look a bit like us and are displaced from places closer to our home than for others. But we, who know that God has counted the hairs on every head and has concern for the movement of every sparrow, must share God’s heart for each and every refugee, for they are part of us, no matter where they come from.

Like the climate crisis to which it is increasingly connected, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the refugee crisis. And we wish we could go back and start again before our brothers and sisters were driven from their homes and made to feel despair that we cannot. But if original sin is anything, it is the assumption that we cannot start again, that there is no way back.

We can take heart from the fact that God in Christ brings to birth a new creation in which we know that violence, fear, war and oppression will not have the last word. And that should gives us courage to campaign against these forces all over the world, to stand in solidarity with the victims of these forces, to welcome and care for them, sacrificing something of what we have for them as we would our own siblings – because that is what they are.

In a world in which refugees easily become politically exploited, standing with refugees will set us against many, including perhaps members of our own family as Jesus predicted. Our first loyalty is to the one who came among us as a stranger, from a race of refugees, who meets us in the eyes of the displaced as our sibling in need and unites us with refugees from across the world in his body.