. . . so Jesus, the Messiah. The full quote states:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I [Jesus] say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Gospel of Matthew 5:43-48 – NRSV)
In my 4th year of living in Europe, I’m observing the growing malaise with the daily influx of – mostly but not exclusively – Muslim asylum-seekers. They hail from different parts of the Middle East and Africa but in the last year many have fled Syria to seek refuge in the West.
North America too, has its question marks, as larger number of Muslims have made it their home. Mosques have been built and freedom of religious expression has been encouraged. Maybe because of the geographical distance, there isn’t the same sense of impending doom as there is in Europe. By its proximity, many Europeans feel truly threatened by the unabated arrival of Muslim refugees.
Questions are raised; are all legitimate refugees? The triage center in Germany, for instance, is failing for lack of people and resources. What do you do, when people land at your doorstep by the hundreds? Disperse them; send them to the various cities and communities across the country, and let the local authorities deal with them. Then, in about eighteen months – if all goes well – the formal interviewing process will take place in each community. (That’s when the reason for fleeing will be known)
From a legal standpoint, at least in Germany, no mayor or regional authority has the option to decline. It’s against the law, which states that the country is under obligation to provide refuge for those whose lives are in danger. The mandate is enacted by the highest authority (in this case the Chancellor or her delegates). With its unhappy historical past, Germany goes through hoops to accommodate those who flee the terror of their home countries. Carrying the burden of its past around, Germany is loath to appear racist or elitist in any form.
One must excuse then, this feeling of unease that has taken a hold of a number of German citizens. The number isn’t clear; we only know of those who have organized themselves in movements, against perceived Islamization of their country. Authorities are coming down hard on those protesters, and no ministers or their representatives agree to meet with them (although peaceful protests and requests to be heard are democratic rights). To be sure, there are many more who feel the same way but who will never come out and say so. Germany is not alone; the same kind of movements have sprouted in various European countries.
The failed attempts at integration, for people who obey Sha’ria law more than the law of the land they reside in, is problematic. Various negative experiences by those who live in close proximity to Muslims, attest at the oft hostile undercurrents on both sides. Such experiences, as might be expected, increase the sense of discomfort toward new arrivals.
Now they’re at our own door…. What do I mean? Well, the small village where I live, has received the mayoral news that forty asylum-seekers will be arriving. Not to worry, they will come in small groups, so as not to overwhelm the local volunteers and civic services. Here?! At our village? You’ve got to be kidding! We’re supposed to be a retreat area. People come here to seek renewal from their stressful and hectic lives.
To be fair, nobody knows who will be arriving or where from; families, children, men, persecuted Christians, Muslims? In one nearby town, only men arrived, which immediately fuelled angst and suspicions. How do we know there aren’t any extremists hidden among them? Knowing how the triage centre is unable to handle the flow of people, it is a justifiable concern.
Nevertheless, regardless of the arrivals, whether or not legitimate, whether friend or foe, Christ’s command to his followers didn’t seem to leave any options. He didn’t say to get even, or to close the door to those other than we. He made it very clear that we need to love those who might be hostile towards us, and those we might perceive as enemies. Such revolutionary attitude turn hate-promoting paradigms upside-down.
What better way to open a path to understanding and acceptance, than to embrace Christ’s command and carry it out, in spite of misgivings, and irrespective of whether or not, in this case, the asylum-seekers accept our hospitality.
Obedience to a divine directive does not guarantee a successful outcome, and that’s not the point. It could, however, be a different road to disarmament. In humility, a better way can be modeled to society around us and to the few who might mean us harm. The outcome for those willing to follow Christ’s injunction: fear and anger cannot grow, and hate cannot fester when, by God’s grace, love is intentionally put into action. No easy road for sure; it takes courage.