As this week’s Beverley Guardian is out I feel I can now blog the text of my piece for last week’s edition. This is the full text I sent in, which was edited slightly for publication.
All of us will be aware of the crisis that has been unfolding over recent weeks across Europe as thousands of refugees from war in Syria and parts of Africa have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean and get to Europe.
The first response of many has been to help, and I know some of you will have dug deep to donate to charities working on the ground, or given of your time or expertise.
But there has also been an opposite reaction, which distresses me, which says that we can’t help or we shouldn’t help. Claims that these people aren’t really refugees, that they are Isis agents in disguise, or that even if they are genuine it is not our problem. Views I have sadly heard expressed on the streets of our town, on the Beverley Facebook Group, and by our elected representatives. Some of you may have seen the man collecting signatures in Hull for a petition entitled “Hull is Full.”
I confess that I struggle to understand the mindset that acts only in my own narrow interests with seemingly no empathy with those in distress. Empathy is at the heart of who we should be as human beings, because it is at the heart of who God is. God was so determined to identify with us that he took the radical step of entering our world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived the full human experience including suffering and death.
Jesus was once asked to summarise how people should live, and his response was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself”. Asked, “Who is my neighbour?” he told a story about a man who was mugged and left for dead on a country road. Religious and political leaders passed by and ignored him and it was a hated foreigner who eventually stopped to help.
The story has a twist in the application. Jesus does not finish by saying that the mugged man was the neighbour of the foreigner and therefore he should have stopped to help. But rather that the foreigner had been a neighbour to the man in need, thereby demonstrating a common humanity that transcended racial, cultural, and religious boundaries. Even the one of a different race and culture, hated and feared, can be the one who will help us in our hour of deepest need. This is the significance of the “as yourself” in the command, which shows that in order to truly love someone we have to able to imagine ourselves in their position, to ask how we would want them to respond to us if the roles were reversed.
Jesus’s final comment to his questioner pushes the point home, “Go and do likewise.” So as we see on our TV screens and in our newspapers those who have lost everything and have nowhere to go, as human beings and particularly for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, there is only one question: not whether we should help, but how.