Can I be honest with you? I battle fear, and when I look back at 2015, I seem to have been confronted with a “greater than normal” number of occasions giving rise to my fear. These occasions included very real and personal life intrusions (like my husband being hit by a car while training for Ironman), events happening on the world stage (like the actions and threats of Isis), and a few irrational fears that just took hold and wasted my energy (like an alligator eating me on my last, long, lonely open water swim before Ironman…go ahead, laugh…it’s funny now). In the face of my Isis fears – specifically the issue involving the welcoming or turning away of Syrian refugees – I cannot stop thinking about Jesus’ words on the Wednesday night before His crucifixion (Matthew 24-25, best known as the Olivet Discourse).
Sitting in the garden, looking toward Jerusalem, the disciples open up the conversation by pointing out the temple buildings. How shocking Jesus’ response must have been, prophesying the temple’s destruction! The disciples press further, wanting to know when this will happen and inquiring about signs of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age. Jesus fills their ears with prophetic warnings of what life will be like before He returns, both on a global scale and for His followers: persecution, natural disasters, and wars (and rumors of wars) with antichrist, false christs, and false prophets vying for the affections of people, etc. Interspersed the gloom and doom, Jesus promises the Gospel will be preached in the whole world and admonishes His followers to not be frightened, but to be faithful and ready. He punctuates His points with a few parables, and then ends with the division of farm animals.
But when the Son of Man comes in glory, and all the nations are gathered before Him, He will separate one from another: sheep right and goats left. Sheep inheriting the kingdom; goats cast into the eternal fire. (Matthew 25:31-34 and 41, my paraphrase)
And on what criteria will the farm animals be divided?
When I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned you (the sheep) fed, watered, took in, clothed, visited, and came to me. On the other hand, when I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned you (the goats) did NOT feed, water, take in, clothe, visit, or come to me. (Matthew 25:35-36 and 42-45, my paraphrase)
Apparently, both groups are confused, neither recalling when they did, or did not, do such things for Jesus. So, Jesus explains,
When you did (or did not) do these things to one of these BROTHERS OF MINE, you (or did NOT) do it for Me. (Matthew 25:40 and 45, my paraphrase)
I have heard many good sermons and teachings on caring for the poor, imprisoned, etc. based on Matthew 25:31-46. While those teaching are certainly in line with the heart and ministry of Jesus, I do not think that is His point here. Looking at His words in context, Jesus has been telling His disciples things are going get tough, and when they do, you must care for one another. After all, it's how people will know we belong to Jesus, by your love for one another (John 13:35).
Jesus’ brothers are among those refugees. To be honest, I fear I cannot know for sure which is a brother of Jesus and which is a brother of Isis, determined to kill me and destroy all that is dear to me. So, two choices unfold before me:
Will I choose faith over fear (or maybe just faith in the face of my fear) and be sheep, welcoming a Syrian refugee? In the end, if the refugee does not end up being my brother, but my enemy, I am still being faithful to Jesus’ radical call to love my enemy (Matthew 5:43-47).
Will I be a goat, giving way to my fear and fulfilling Jesus’ prophetic words from the discourse concerning frozen love, “and because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 25:12)?
Come Holy Spirit – promised comforter, encourager, and strengthener – embolden my fearful heart to walk in faith and follow Jesus where He goes.