“Jesus was a homeless brown refugee who ran around giving people universal healthcare.” Such is the portrait of Jesus of Nazareth in the minds of many modern liberals. The popular image of “Hippie Jesus” has been all the rage among progressives in the past fifty years or so, as the archetype of the long-hair-and-beard combo began to be interpreted as incredibly tolerant and left-wing (thanks, John Lennon). As the current DACA controversy in the United States divides citizens on political grounds, there is also a religious divide that occurs when one begins to muddy the waters between the separation of church and state.
In an article penned by Rev. Susan Hill, an Episcopal priestess, writes thus:
“To do anything other than show compassion and love to refugees, and anyone else who is marginalized and vulnerable, is a misrepresentation of what Jesus taught. Banning refugees is a disgrace. The church must not be silent about this.”
However, by summoning a religious figure to settle a political dispute, Hill is not engaging in a purely historical or political argument, but in a theological dispute. According to Hill’s interpretation, which ought to be considered in accordance with the teachings of The Episcopal Church (TEC) wherein she possesses teaching and administrative authority, Jesus would under no circumstance ban refugees from entering a country.
The theological implications of this would find their root at the understanding of the distribution of temporal authority between the scared and the secular; however, for the sake of brevity, the underlying difference between Hill’s understanding and a conservative one is mainly that who Jesus was.
Jesus was not a refugee. This is probably the most ludicrous accusation, because it toys with legal definitions. A refugee, according to the U.S. Code, is:
“…any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail h imself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Jesus was a refugee in a similar way that a Finnish person spending several years in Sweden is a refugee. Firstly, the Hellenization process of Alexandria captured the Egyptians in a similar way that it captured the Hebrews, and the two cultures would have each looked remarkably similar in Jesus’s life. The land of Egypt would have been filled with Greek aesthetics, the Greek language, and Greek religion, similar to Jesus’s homeland, Israel; so, despite the difference in nationality, there would have been no need for the family of Jesus to assimilate to their Egyptian context, because Egypt and Jesus’s family would have both been pre-assimilated to the meta-Greek context. Additionally, the family of Jesus were able and willing to return to their homeland, and they did after a relatively short period of time.
Neither was Jesus homeless or a stranger wherever he dwelled. He was born into a healthy family structure complete with a mother, a father, and it is likely that he also had step-siblings who were somewhat older than himself (Mk. 13:54-56). He and his second cousin John (the Baptist) likely grew up together as friends. Joseph, his stepfather, would have been considerably older than he and Mary. Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist, would have been older than Joseph when John was born to them. Because of this, John may have been orphaned as a child, together with Jesus losing his father at an early age. Jesus’s mother, Mary, likely took in the both of them and raised them as siblings of a sort, which would explain John’s familiarity with his second cousin by the time the gospel narrative picks up. John’s Essene-esque behavior (ritualistic cleansing, ascetic lifestyle, etc.) would also put him in in the company of orphans, as the Essenes were notorious for those in need.
Seeing that every mention of Jesus’s father ends when Jesus is 12, in addition to any further details regarding Jesus’s life as a teenager and twenty-something, it is incredibly likely that Jesus needed a way to support himself and his mother, taking up carpentry after Joseph as a trade (Matt.13:55; Mk. 6:3). We have records of Jesus literally building a home in Capernaum early during his ministry (Matt. 4:12; Mk. 2:1-2). Furthermore, Jesus had a multitude of friends who supported him in times of need, including Simon the Leper, Levi, a nameless Pharisee, another Pharisee who was a leader, and even Zaccheus. Let’s not even mention the group of women disciples who financially supported his ministry.
The idea that Jesus would have been, for some reason or another, pro-refugee in a political manner is derived from the assumption that Jesus’s lifestyle was that of a foreigner living in a foreign land, which is patently false. Jesus did not speak on the subject of foreign immigration, and although theologians should be granted a conviction on the subject, it is wrong to present a religious figure as though he were in support of a modern political platform that did not exist during his ministry.