Was Jesus a refugee?

We are around about the stage of Christmas when people focus in on the visit of the magi and Joseph fleeing Herod with his young family to Egypt. Over the years, people have frequently drawn comparisons with the early life of Jesus and the experience of refugees forced to flee their own countries and seek refuge.  The comparison was particularly drawn in recent years following President Trump’s decision to build a wall on the Mexican border and the response to and treatment of migrants seeking to enter the United States.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed two kickbacks against this narrative. The first has been to point out that Jesus was not a stranger in Egypt because as the creator God, Egypt was within his territory. That point focuses correctly on Christ’s divinity but seems to miss something of the reality of his humanity.

Then my attention was drawn to this article.

I wonder what you make of the comparison with people moving between states in the US. My response was that to make that response there must be something wrong either with your head or your hear (or possibly both).  Of course, we can recognise that Jesus was technically not a refugee in the sense that a modern-day asylum was.  He wasn’t carrying a passport and there wouldn’t be a detention centre followed by home office housing, appeals, tribunals and the eventual Judicial Review.

In the same way, Martin Luther King wasn’t literally Moses, Black People were not Israelites, the civil rights marches did not pass through Sinai and I suspect MLK didn’t actually pop up  a mountain and look down into the Promise Land.

There is a long tradition of using images and events from history to make rhetorical points. Those who grew up saturated in Scripture tended to draw on Scripture for their imagery (you will find this in the writings of people like John Wesley too). If you are unable to grasp the use of analogy, simile and metaphor to build a rhetorical argument then there has to be something a little wrong with your head. Either that or you are displaying a wilful ignorance.

Which takes us to the second point. If when faced with the refugee crisis and a parallel drawn with our saviour’s willing experience of human suffering and your immediate go to response is some kind of pedantic correction of the analogy then  I fear that there is something badly wrong with your heart.

We are able to get the point of the analogy. Of course, if I were preaching on Matthew 2, my primary application would not be about the refugee crisis, it would be about Jesus the son out of Egypt who fulfils Israel’s hope and ours, the one whose righteous obedience is imputed to you and me.[1] However, I can still see in those events an incident that gives hope and comfort to asylum seekers and outcasts, Christ can fully empathise with their suffering. I can see a challenge and rebuke to us for when we have lacked compassion and concern for the refugee, the sojourner in our midst.


[1] See e.g. A son out of Egypt Hosea 11:1 – Faithroots