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syrian refugeesWhile reading Brennan Manning’s beautiful book Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, I came across this wonderful quote by Thomas Cahill:

As we stand now at the entrance of the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications—if we had followed in the humble footsteps of the heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else’s wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the Levite‚ the world we inhabit would be a very different one. (Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, 185)

I might qualify a bit Cahill’s description of the priest and Levite in this story so as to avoid the impression that Jesus is pitting law/ritual purity against grace/compassion—though I do think this is one of those “the Jewish leaders are dimwitted” moments we find on Jesus’s lips now and then, chiding them here for stereotyping and xenophobia.

(Let’s not get sidetracked. A wonderful explanation of the parable can be found in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 123)

Also, it is not entirely convincing to me that the parable of the Good Samaritan can easily be applied to the present crisis as a matter of national policy. I have the same hesitation with, say, nations turning the other cheek when faced with a foreign invasion. Jesus’s ethics, I believe, are kingdom ethics for personal embodiment.

Concerning political policy, however, we need only look to the last century’s ideologically driven atrocities to know that when nations and peoples have a chance to help suffering fellow humans, they should. Somehow. And quickly.

That being said, I am still moved by Cahill’s words, particular when I hear the reactive and fear based rhetoric of, I hope, a minority of Christians.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)

Rather than perfect love casting our fear, fear seems to be casting out perfect love.

I don’t have refugees flooding into my hometown, but if I did, I pray that I have have the simple compassion—as so many others across the world have demonstrated—to do what I think Jesus would do without a moment’s hesitation.

Which is what the body of Christ is certainly called to do.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.