Muslim refugees in Europe – where is Jesus?
Luke’s gospel wants us to have a clear picture of Jesus as someone who lived in a world in which insider and outsider distinctions are the order of the day, one that was deeply entrenched in the pervasive ideologies of both the local Jewish religious and nationalistic prejudices and the mechanisms of the broader hegemonic Roman empire. Colin Smith rightly suggests that Jesus’ parables serve to question this communal ordering, “undermining the sense that those at the social, cultural, or even religious centres form the centre of God’s Kingdom”. Those who are excluded (for whatever reason) are the very ones Jesus honours with dialogue, assistance, and friendship.
This kind of Lukan hermeneutic was firmly in my mind and heart when I attended a migration summit in Amsterdam in early May that was considering the possibility of a common future when it comes to refugees and Europe. Attendees included politicians, representatives from non-governmental organizations, educators, leaders of a variety of Christian ministries, and refugees themselves who had stories to tell and experiential perspectives to offer. As you might guess, it was their stories that carried the most weight and provoked emotive rather than objective responses. It was their stories that compelled a sense of pragmatic urgency.
What do you say to the Syrian intellectual whose articulate retelling of his very recent history revisits the fear of death, of hasty goodbyes to family, friends and homeland, of rejection from multiple countries, of a treacherous boat crossing, and of being herded like cattle time and time again? How do you respond to his suggestion that friendship is the most pressing need, in order to offset the overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness? What do you say to the nineteen-year-old Afghani woman, who fled ongoing physical and psychological abuse at the hands of religiously zealous men who could not countenance her hunger for learning? Does she share in any way in a common future in Europe? What do you say to the husband and wife who survived the barrage of bullets on the streets of Aleppo, and now are desperate to somehow regroup with their four children?
Coupled with this, in almost every case, is the Muslim factor. In terms of Christian-Muslim interaction, insider and outsider approaches to social and personal identity can go both ways. Can we find a path that allows for the excavation of the assumptions and preconceptions that often create almost insurmountable barriers? At the same time, can we openly discuss serious theological differences that cannot (and should not) be avoided, yet do so with an air of civility, respect and all that lends to genuine shalom? Carl Medearis, in my opinion, offers an appropriate and healthy balance. He suggests, for example, that common ground can be found in God himself. Are we talking about the same God? Of course, says Medearis. “Do Muslims have full revelation of who he is and who Jesus is? No. Do they need that understanding? Yes”.
This broader discussion necessarily revives the question of how a summit of this type relates to a gospel-oriented perspective on those who are outside. How are we to evaluate this? The discussion, furthermore, takes on even more significance when it is done with urban configurations clearly in view, understanding our propensity to condone the increasingly divided city. In terms of both the plight of refugees (of all types), and of the Muslim factor that is unavoidably so prominent, I suggest that we are positively compelled to highlight the person of Jesus that figures so prominently even in the title of Medearis’ book. Another way of saying it is to suggest that a common future that is Christologically-centred will discerningly, yet wholeheartedly, welcome the outsider. Gospel application of this type will challenge our cities and, in my view, enhance them.
Dr Wesley White
The MA in Theology (Urban Mission) allows you explore this and many other factors relating to life, mission and culture in the cities of the world. Start studying this September, and take part in the next intensive study week in Glasgow in January 2018. Contact us to find out more.
 Colin Smith (2015), Mind the Gap: Reflections from Luke’s Gospel on the Divided City, Portland: Urban Loft Publishers, p55.
 Biblical Missiology (2010), “Interview with Carl Medearis: Author of Muslims, Christians, and Jesus”, p89-95.