As Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, the dangerous situation he faced in his infancy should not be forgotten. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the new-born Jesus and his family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod of Judea. They were allowed to enter Egypt, where they lived in safety until Herod died.
Matthew’s recitation of events shows that Jesus and his family were refugees -- forced to leave their home to escape danger or persecution. The Egyptians gave them refuge until the family felt it was safe to return. Thank God that the Egyptians did not refuse them asylum and turn them away. That is a wonderful object lesson, in and of itself.
Jesus went on to be a powerful advocate for the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. He spoke of our responsibility to love one another, including the “stranger.” In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus made it clear that those who had treated strangers with kindness would inherit His kingdom. On the other hand, those who refused to take in strangers, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty would not.
These words were in keeping with a strong biblical tradition that preceded Christianity. Deuteronomy and Exodus are replete with verses admonishing the Jews to treat foreigners with kindness and compassion--Deuteronomy 27:19, “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner” and 10:19, “And you are to love those who are foreigners.” Exodus 12:49, “The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you” and 22:21, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Millions of people in that same region of the world are currently refugees, having fled their homes to escape persecution or certain death. This country obviously can’t take them all in but we can do a much better job of giving at least some of them sanctuary from the horrors that forced them to flee their countries. Yet, this year we will take in no more than 18,000 refugees, less than 20% of our historic average of 98,000 since 1975.
Idaho’s refugee resettlement program is regarded as a model for the rest of the nation. The Agency for New Americans and International Rescue Committee in Boise resettle about two-thirds of the Idaho-bound refugees, while the College of Southern Idaho takes care of the rest. Our refugee community is comprised of people who work hard, take care of their families, set up businesses, and contribute to the community.
Idahoans, particularly those who have had personal contact with refugees, are supportive of continuing the resettlement program in Idaho. Many in the faith community have led the effort to increase the dwindling number of refugees being admitted to the U.S. and Idaho.
Idahoans are pretty down-to-earth types who understand that we are all human beings and that we need to lend a hand to those who are suffering adversity. We are reminded in our places of worship of our responsibility to come to the aid of distressed foreigners.
That theme would not be woven within the fabric of both the Old and New Testaments if it were not an integral part of the religions that observe the words in those revered books. Of course, we also have the example of that most famous of refugees, who escaped the wrath of Herod due to the sanctuary granted by Egypt just over 2,000 years ago.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. His previous columns can be found at https://JJCommonTater.com.