It’s a hot topic and not a week goes by without the issue of refugees being discussed in the media. And as in the past week, when a boat carrying refugees heads to our
shores, everyone has an opinion.
Do we let them stay, or send them “back to where they came from”?
We talk about “boat people”, “queue jumpers”, “illegal maritime arrivals” and “stopping the boats”…But all these terms and slogans do is to desensitise us. They help us forget about the human face of the issue, the pain and struggle that these refugees go through.
A couple of years ago there was a documentary called “Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta”, about refugees coming to Australia searching for a better life. Many of you would remember that during the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese people fled their homes as the communists fought for power and a brutal and bloody battle followed. Some came by boat to Australia, seeking asylum. The Fraser government responded humanely by welcoming the refugees.
Coming by boat to Australia was no easy task. A mother of three shares her experience. She says: “I escaped by boat. If I hadn’t, my family would have all died. Escaping by boat you’d face pirates, being shot and raped. That was the path I must take. I could die just like that. If we were lucky, we’d reach the shore and survive.”
We can only imagine the terror and poverty that forces desperate people to leave their homes, sell all their possessions, and board a flimsy boat on rough seas. But they are coming to Australia, and as God’s people, we must respond. We must abandon our personal politics as we consider the Christian response to this issue.
Do we have a responsibility to the people arriving on our shores? How are we, as Christians, to behave in both our public and private spheres?
This morning we will discover how the Bible directs us, as Christians, to respond to the refugee crisis.
Why does it matter, how we respond to this as Christians? Can’t we just continue on with our lives? Do we really have to dedicate a Sunday to this? Can’t we just love God and leave it to the politicians to sort out?
To help us reflect and respond to this question, we will look together at Luke 10, which is the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.
The context to this passage is that an expert in the law wanted to ask Jesus how he could attain eternal life. And isn’t this our greatest pursuit? To inherit eternal life and live forever with Jesus?
But in His answer, Jesus pointed the man to the greatest commandment, that is:
“‘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 neighbour as yourself.’” Jesus commended him to do likewise and he would live.
But the expert in the law felt he needed to test Jesus one more time and wanting to justify his own careful study of the law. He asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
What a loaded question! Loaded because he had already made up his mind as to who was his neighbour. The only neighbour he wanted Jesus to identify was a fellow Jew, like himself, who also followed the Law of Moses.
But in His unexpected answer, Jesus shares the story of the Good Samaritan. As the story unfolded scene by scene, the expert in the law felt more and more uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because the hero of this parable was a Samaritan. But why would Jesus make a Samaritan the hero?
Although they were geographically neighbours and distant cousins, the Jews would never have considered the Samaritans as their neighbours. Every Jew hated Samaritans. The fact that Jesus spoke of a Samaritan being the hero of this story would have angered or left a sour taste in their mouths.
For centuries Jews and Samaritans were at conflict with each other. There were deep-seated divisions between the two groups of people. The conflict began hundreds of years earlier, and is recorded in 1 Kings 12, when the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom remained as Israel and set their capital in Samaria, where the name “Samaritan” came from. The southern kingdom, Judah maintained Jerusalem, with its grand temple, as their capital.
But it was not just a division of borders. The Jews and Samaritans were divided politically and religiously. And the deep-seated division was only exasperated because the Jews considered Samaritans unclean people due to their intermarriage with the invaders from Assyria. An act that was contrary to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 7:3-5). The Jews called the Samaritans “dogs,” or “half-breeds.”
So in making the Samaritan the hero of the story, Jesus was not only trying to shock.
He was also trying to prove a point. Jesus wanted to expand the man’s narrow definition of who was his neighbour. It was easy for the man to love his Jewish neighbour. But consider how hard it would have been for him to love the Gentiles as his neighbours and love them. It would have been even harder that he had to love and consider Samaritans as his neighbours.
As Christians, we should be asking the same question as the expert in the law. As Christians, we too should be striving to inherit eternal life. And Jesus says that in order to inherit eternal life, we must love God and our neighbour.
It is not enough for us to read our Bibles, come to church on Sundays and pray.
We must also love our neighbour.
But what about you? Who is your neighbour? Who is the neighbour that Jesus commands you to love? Do you limit your neighbours to only those who live around you?
Friends, if we consider ourselves to be the Good Samaritan in the parable Jesus told, it is not a far stretch to see the injured man on the side of the road as the Tamil refugees who recently fled their homes because of the persecution and threats to their life.
Our politicians portray refugees as illegals, and enemies invading our land. But if we continue to consider the refugee as our enemy and not our neighbour, our views are no different to the ones Jesus was trying to combat. Instead, Jesus calls us to be different from the world. To be salt and to be the light of the world. If we want to inherit eternal life, we need to be different to the world, and broaden our definition of neighbours to include those beyond our own borders.
Everybody needs good neighbours (Luke 10, Lev 19:33-34)
Well, how do we treat our neighbours? In our last point we established that “our neighbour” includes those beyond our shores, even refugees and those seeking asylum.
Let’s look back to the parable of the Good Samaritan and the foundation Jesus provides for us as we consider how we are to treat and love our neighbour.
Luke 10:33 “But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and
when he saw him, he took pity on him”.
We can see clearly the attitude and heart of the Samaritan, who took pity on the injured man. Another word for pity is compassion. Compassion is a deep heartfelt sympathy for those who are stricken by misfortune, and being willing to alleviate their suffering. It perfectly sums up the attitude and action of the Samaritan. He showed deep sympathy, and wanted to alleviate the suffering of the injured man, to help him.
As Christians, do we show compassion to our neighbours – the refugees and the asylum seekers?
Our first Bible reading from Leviticus 19 provides us with that answer.
Leviticus 19:33 “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him”.
Leviticus 19:34 “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born”. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
It’s quite amazing that the Law of Moses includes provisions for the Israelites on how to treat the alien. An ‘alien’ is another word for refugee, and it also means a stranger or a foreigner. This specific instruction in the law expects of us to love and show compassion to the refugee.
It’s amazing that the first century Jew or even the expert in the law could overlook this specific law. Surely according to this law they could have listed the Gentiles and even the Samaritans as their neighbours and offered compassion. There is no excuse for the Jews to overlook their responsibility to love the Gentiles and Samaritans.
In the same way we, as Christians, have no excuse to overlook our responsibility to refugees. But there are still some of us who find it difficult to extend compassion to refugees. Why?
Our politicians and the media have led us to become overwhelmed by fear. We’re afraid that they are going to take over our land, congest our roads and steal all of our jobs.
Friends, we cannot be xenophobes, afraid of everyone outside of our nation. We should not be driven by the fear of the unknown. But do you know who we should fear? We should fear God! And obey His precepts and commandments, especially our calling to extend grace and compassion to the less fortunate.
Those who have made it to Australia and have settled as refugees often speak about their torment and persecution that they once faced. Take for instance Santino, a former refugee from Sudan. He is one of many thousands of people who has seen decades of civil war in Africa’s largest nation.
He shares: “In Sudan, all the time we are worried. When you leave your house you worry – will I come back? When you sleep at night you worry that someone will knock on your door. You worry that security will arrest you for no reason and when you ask why, they don’t know either.” Santino was arrested twice by Sudanese authorities. Fearing for his life, he made the decision to flee.
“I was arrested because of a security problem. Not for a reason, just because of
security. They arrested me twice and they didn’t give respect for my life. So next
time they arrest me, I don’t know what will happen. Maybe they are going to kill
me, so that’s why me and my family left Sudan.” Santino carrying only a few clothes left his parents, brothers and sisters behind and headed towards Egypt. He arrived in Cairo and his wife applied for refugee status. However it was a hard road for Santino and his family because they had their refugee status rejected and lived in limbo.
Refusing to give up hope, Santino remained in Cairo. He reapplied for refugee status four years later. This time they were granted refugee status and the family was resettled in Australia.
While he has called Australia home for over a decade, Santino remains haunted by the memories of his experiences in Sudan and the trauma he has suffered. He says: “Sometimes when I go to bed my mind goes back home. I can’t go to sleep immediately, it takes me two hours. I think of the past. A lot of bad things happened to me, so it is not easy. Now we took a lot of time, many years in Australia, but it is still in the mind because you cannot forget the bad things that happened to you and to your family and to your people.”
Friends, imagine that you were in the place of Santino, running away from the country that you love because of war and in fear of your life. The only possessions you had were the clothes on your back. You desperately want to provide for your family.
Refugees who arrive in Australian waters are placed in mandatory detention for who knows how long. This includes men, women and children. But not all make it to detention. We have all heard of boats crashing on Christmas Island, hundreds of dead bodies floating in the sea.
Just last week, Tamil refugees fleeing for their lives from Sri Lanka, made it to Australian waters, only to be towed back by the coast guard. Their lives are put in even greater risk as they are deposited into the hands of those who persecute them.
While our government displays no compassion, we as Christians are to show compassion. We are to remember that not only are refugees our neighbours, but
they, like us were created in the image of God.
But how can we show compassion you might ask?
One way we can show compassion is to advocate on their behalf. We can discuss it with Lucy Wicks, our local MP who is a Christian. We can encourage her to seek humane accommodation for the more than 100 children in detention.
We can lobby Scott Morrison, the Minister for Immigration, who is also a professing Christian, to grant counselling to those in detention and process their applications faster.
There are organisations that provide food for refugees, legal aid, or blankets for winter.
There are many ways we can love our neighbours.
Friends, each boat load of refugees is a cry for help. And as God’s people, we cannot sit idly by with hearts of stone. We must love our neighbours. Are you willing to be like the Good Samaritan to your neighbours who are in need of our help?
More alike than you think (Hebrews 11:13-16)
For those of us who find our identity as God’s people, the Bible teaches that we are seeking a better country, an eternal city built by God. It has been our identity and as long as we live in this world we are helpless and dependent on God in all things.
Abraham is presented to us in Genesis 15 as the first refugee in the Bible. God called him to leave his own county, live as a refugee and be an instrument of His missions to the nations.
Abraham and His family lived all their lives as refugees, and he was an example of how to live by faith.
We also remember Joseph in Genesis 45 who was forced to live as a refugee when he was sold as a slave and sent to Egypt. Like a refugee he was mistreated, wrongly accused and imprisoned even though he was innocent. But this was God’s will; that Joseph would save his own family and all of Egypt from famine.
I wonder if you know that Jesus was a refugee himself, fleeing with Joseph and Mary in Egypt as King Herod threatened to kill every first born in Israel. It was in God’s sovereignty that Jesus had escaped persecution in order to become our King and Saviour.
All these people in the Bible lived as refugees, and God used each one of these people to His ultimate purpose.
Hebrews reminds us that as God’s people we are refugees here on earth and we are just visiting until we return home to God.
Hebrews 11:13 ¶”All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”
Hebrews 11:14 “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”
Hebrews 11:15 “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they
would have had opportunity to return.”
Hebrews 11:16 “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
Hebrews reminds us that if we live by faith as God’s people, we recognise that our home is not here in this world. Our home is with God in the New Heavens and New Earth. Friends, if our home is not here then we are refugees and asylum seekers longing for a better country – a heavenly one. If we are longing for a better home, then we might understand the desperation and plight of those who seek asylum, those who are refugees and those who come by boat. If these people are longing for a home, longing for safety and longing just to live a normal life, then as God people who live by faith, as aliens and strangers in this world, we have the responsibility to help those who are in need. As God helped us through Jesus while we were sinners, lost and with no future hope.
I want to conclude with a story from an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, published in September last year.
Last year 45 Tamil Sri Lankan Asylum seekers were granted permanent
residency in Australia. They were given $85, and placed in an inner city hotel with no
One morning half way through a Good Friday Service, the Tamil Asylum seekers filled the back seats of the Anglican Church, in St Peters, Sydney. These Asylum Seekers had been left in the hotel with no idea where the shops were and none or very little English. They only had the shirt, shorts and thongs they wore.
The church responded that day by taking the group straight to the shops, buying them rice cookers and finding clothes for them to wear. The minister of St Peter’s, Rev Andrew Bruce, with his congregation helped to rehouse these Asylum Seekers.
They came to the church every day for six weeks to cook, learn English and play cricket next to a graveyard.
Not long after this group had left, Rev Bruce was walking to the train station and he saw another 40 Asylum Seekers standing outside the hotel across the road. Then, a few days later on a rainy day in June, another group knocked on the church’s door.
Dripping wet and shivering, they asked for help. People from the congregation started taking off their jumpers and walked to their cars to find them clothes.
It’s become a desperate situation for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, who have barely survived the torturous journey in a dingy boat. Then those who are granted residency are expected to find accommodation when they arrive. They have no other family, no language and they are expected to find a house in Australia with no money, no credit history, and no right to work.
While we have been given the responsibility to advocate for our refugee neighbours, we also have been called to be ready. To be ready like the St Peter’s church, should a number of refugees come into our church one day looking for help.
Friends, will you be a Good Samaritan to our refugee neighbours?