Sunday, 30 August 2015

Migrant - or Refugee?

The parables of Jesus sometimes lose their force because of their familiarity, and yet here was a man who reached out to the outcasts, the refuse of society, and never lost sight of their essential humanity. I remember reading Kiekegaard, before his legacy was stolen by later existentialists, who forgot the point he hammered home time and time again, the divergence between the message of Christianity and those who profess it:

In the magnificent cathedral the Honorable and Right Reverend Geheime-General-Ober-Hof-Prädikant, the elect favorite of the fashionable world, appears before an elect company and preaches with emotion upon the text he himself elected: "God hath elected the base things of the world, and the things that are despised"—and nobody laughs.

In fact it is Christians, like Giles Fraser, like the BBC Songs of Praise team, like the teacher in Jersey from De La Salle, who are responding to the call for action to help those in Calais, who are fellow human beings like ourselves. They hear a call for compassion. And for their pains, the wrath of tabloid newspapers like the Daily Mail, feeding xenophobia, descends on them. When did refugees become "migrants", a much less compassionate term, one which distances "us" from "them"?

Here is a parable for our times, a reworking of the parable in Matthew's Gospel, and a call for rethinking compassion.

Parables of the Sheep and Goats
When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left.

Then the King will say to the people on his right, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.

I was a refugee, hungry and starving with children crying, their bellies empty, and you fed us and gave us clean water to drink a drink

I was a migrant, homeless, with children fearful of the future, and you received me into your country and clothed me and settled me.

I was ill, living in a camp at Calais, and you brought medicine and provisions to nourish me back to health.

I was imprisoned behind barriers, living in a migrant camp, forgotten, and you came and visited me and told the world of my plight, and that of my family, my children, and others like us.

The righteous will then answer him, 'When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry in a refugee camp and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a migrant, a stranger to our land, and welcome you in our country?

When did we ever see you sick or imprisoned behind barriers, and visit you?'

The King will reply, 'I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Away from me, you that are under God's curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels!

I was a refugee, fleeing a land torn by war hungry but you would not feed me, and told me I should go home (but where is home, but burnt out villages) and not be a parasite, and told me charity begins at home.

I was a stranger in a strange land, in a migrant camp, but you would not welcome me in your country, and cried out “send them back”, and “they have no place here”.

I was in a living prison, behind barriers in a refugee camp, and you did not visit me, but from afar spoke of the cursed migrant, not a fellow human being, not a refugee.

The King will reply, 'I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.' These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life."

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