Jesus Not a Refugee

Jesus Not a Refugee

Meme using false message, guilting Christians regarding refugees.

No. Jesus was not a refugee.
Over the last few years, there have been many refugees and migrants coming to the USA from South America, North Africa, and the Middle East. No, refugees are not new phenomena. What is new however is that many are utilizing their plight for political gain.

Many of us in the West are being challenged over the plight of refugees. Adding to the issue is pressure from liberal politicians and even religious spokesmen to insinuate that nations are somehow mandated in scripture to ignore their own national sovereignty and safety in order to bring in all who wish to enter the USA, legally, or not, vetted or not.

The plight of actual refugees is indeed cause for Christian compassion and outreach.

Some, like homo-heretic, Fr. James Martin S.J., in a 2017 article in America Magazine insisted that Jesus was indeed a refugee, and that we should be accepting refugees at all costs. However, as appealing as this idea is to many, whether Christian or not, this is not an authentic depiction of Jesus’ reality.

First off, the modern revisionist claim that Jesus was born into poverty and was a refugee as his family was forced to go to Bethlehem and then flee to Egypt is patently skewed to fit a particular political narrative. This is the stuff of much Christian writing and sermons and is found in carols; Mine are riches, from your poverty is a theme in Christian art as this Rembrandt painting shows.

To question or challenge this is to fly in the face of so many sermons and so much Christian appeal to care for those in need, especially refugees. No one with even the weakest of morals could challenge the moral appeal of this, but is it actually true that Jesus was born in poverty and was a refugee. It is good for heart-strings and goading people into action, but is it actually true?

So, what about it?

Was Jesus born in poverty?

Was Jesus a refugee?

If we answer “yes” to both, we can make a powerful argument for action on both fronts. But what if neither is true? Or even not quite true.

In forming our positions, let’s compare them with the “Birth Narratives” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke:

Was Jesus born in poverty?
The Gospels are pretty lean and mean on what they say about Jesus’s home background and wealth. Joseph was a carpenter or builder, and so they asked in the synagogue at Nazareth Matt 13vs55 “Is he not the son of a carpenter?” We can argue whether tekton means builder or carpenter. It does not matter as both are artisan skills and that indicates that Jesus’s family were at least artisan and thus not in poverty. With other incidents, like going to Jerusalem at the age of twelve Luke 2 and the wedding at Cana John 2, the evidence points to being anything but in poverty. They were probably not rich, but by no means living in a state even approaching poverty. It is best to say Joseph was comfortable and probably no more than that. The Holy Family were comfortable by the standards of their day. They did not live in a palace, but in no sense could they be called poor. Joseph and Mary would neither have clothed their family in rags or “fine raiment”.

Was Jesus a refugee?
This needs to be considered in two parts – first the journey to Bethlehem and secondly the journey to Egypt.

On the former and taking Luke’s cryptic account in Luke 2 at face value, Joseph did not flee his adopted town of Nazareth to take refuge in Bethlehem. The reason for the journey was clear. According to Luke, the governor Quirinius had ordered all to go to their hometowns for the census. With the Roman authority behind it, there was no desperate flight and would have had a semblance of order. I doubt whether the journey was enjoyable, but suspect they were with others on the journey. Furthermore, the family later returned to Nazareth. The journey would not have been pleasant for Mary, but the 70-mile walk to Bethlehem would have been a Sunday School outing compared to the Rohinga fleeing from Myanmar and many other refugees in recent years, including those in the turmoil of WWII. Though that it cannot be regarded as gospel, the Proto-gospel of James written in about 150AD supports my contentions.

And so they came to Bethlehem, where undoubtedly many of Joseph’s relatives lived. It is inconceivable to go along with the traditional story and conclude they were turned away by the inn-keeper and were shunted off into an outhouse or cave. But Luke does not say that and some argue the Holy Family were given a guestroom. If Luke were right then many, but not fleeing hordes, would have made the journey

The Flight to Egypt
After the magi went, they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Matthew tells us little and so the story has been embroidered by later writers. Ignoring the embroidery there was an excellent coast road through Gaza to Egypt, which would have made the journey relatively straightforward. The road was used by Roman soldiers as the main route so would have been good.

Matthew only says they “remained there until the death of Herod.” He gave no clue to where they went, but there was a large Jewish population in Alexandria. The great Jewish thinker and philosopher Philo lived there from 25BC to 50 AD. If that is where they went, there were many fellow Jews and probably kinsmen. No one would like to uproot with a tiny baby but this is nothing like the usual ghastly situation of refugees, whether we think of Ruhinga, those crossing the Med, or the many others we have read off in the last 50 years.

Authentic Faith, Radical Transformation, and Contemplative Prayer

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