This sermon was preached
at Gawler UCA December 30 2001. It is designed to give a Christian
response to Australia's treatment of asylum seekers. The
Text for December 30 2001 was the story
of the flight of Jesus family into Egypt.
According to the 1951
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,
a refugee is a
person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons
of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or
political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to
or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of
(Quoted from http://www.unhcr.ch/un&ref/who/whois.htm
as at December 29 2001)
By this definition Jesus was a
refugee. There is no question of this, despite the fact that some Christians are
clearly embarrassed by the fact.
Copyright Peter Nicholson. Used by permission
What would happen if Jesus had fled to Australia instead of Egypt?
Remember that, as Justice
Einfeld recently pointed out, "people seeking refugee asylum are not
illegal migrants. In making their applications for refugee status, they are
doing something expressly permitted by Australian and international law."
Yet, he said
Alone of all countries in
the world, we have indiscriminately detained all of them, the elderly, the
children, the sick and the pregnant at a cost by the way of around $50,000 per
person per year when the Catholic Archbishop of Perth was offering free
accommodation for all of them in Catholic homes while the review process
He goes on to say that
In any civilised country,
freedom from arbitrary detention is a fundamental human right derived from the
common law, yet successive Australian governments have detained for long
periods of time up to 5 years and more asylum seekers who have arrived in this
country, having fled terror, persecution, hunger and other human rights
violations too horrible to dictate, in their homelands.
He points out that
Most detention centres in
this country suffer overcrowding, a lack of natural light and recreational
facilities, and have completely inadequate sanitary conditions. As our own
Human Rights Commission has found, they are more like overnight police
lock-ups than places suitable for the lengthy detention of people who have
committed no crime. And of course they are mostly sited thousands of miles
He went on to say he
could hardly believe his ears when he heard the Minister (of Immigration?)
describe the detention centres "as something like Australians' homes."
It's not as though the asylum seekers are riddled with terrorists or criminals,
despite the myths and lies that prevail. 97% of applicants from Iraq and 93% of
applicants from Afghanistan seeking asylum without valid visas in Australia in
1999 were recognised as genuine refugees. Just 11 of more than 13,000 people who
sought asylum in Australia last year were rejected on "character
grounds". Only one was regarded as a security risk because of suspected
terrorist links. He had come by air, not by boat. (See
the Edmund Rice Center
pages on asylum seekers or Jan's
Myths and Lies pages)
So, without a doubt Jesus, fleeing for his life from King Herod, would have been
stuck in a detention centre, perhaps for years, even though the United Nations
1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees "specifically bars
countries from punishing people who have arrived directly from a country of
persecution (or from another country where protection could not be assured),
provided that they present themselves speedily to the authorities and show good
cause for their illegal entry."
In fact, in Australia, we would try and stop Jesus getting here by turning his
leaky boat around so we could avoid our legal humanitarian obligations. Or else
we would send him to some impoverished dot in the ocean who we have bought off
to fulfil our obligations for us. We would talk about the flood of refugees...
although only 4100 odd arrived by boat last year and the Immigration
Department Website (link good at Dec 29 2001) shows around 60,000 visa
over-stayers in Australia at June 30 2000. Where is the hue and cry to deport
But too bad about all that,
Jesus will be put in detention anyway.
If we judge what Australia
would do to Jesus by biblical standards, this is what the bible says:
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 For the
LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and
awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe who executes justice for the
orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and
clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land
Strangers is one of the
biblical word for refugees. Can it be said that we love the stranger in
To really live the Christian
Faith is to have concern for justice for all people, including "the
strangers and widows and orphans" the Old Testament called the oppressed
and nobodies of the time.
In Matthew 9:13 Jesus told
people to go and learn the meaning of the word compassion. Compassion is the
modern word for mercy. It means to walk in the shoes of someone, or to feel how
a situation feels to them.
Jesus quoted the scripture
where God says "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Keeping the law and
making sacrifices in the temple was the "right thing" a good Jew of
Jesus time did to keep the law. But, says Jesus, God desires mercy or
compassion, not rigid keeping of the law. He was alluding to the words of the
Old Testament Prophet Hosea who says as God's word, "For I desire steadfast
love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."
The Old Testament prophets were
damming of those who kept religious observance and yet did not live out justice.
Amos 5:21 has God saying, "I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no
delight in your solemn assemblies." Jesus was damming of those who kept
religious observance hard heartedly and had no compassion. He called them
"whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they
are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth." Matthew 23:27
The law of Moses was to be
interpreted through compassion. Compassion, then the law. Let us be
compassionate first and then worry about the law, if you like.
In Australia we have chosen to
allow our law to fence off and limit our compassion. We have rejected the
strangers, changing the law with a distinct lack of compassion. In fact, we
changed the law so that if you make it to Ashmore Reef or Christmas Island that
would no longer count as making it to Australia, which one international legal
expert called a blatantly flouting of international law.
Jean-Pierre Fonteyne, the
director of the Graduate International Law program at the Australian National
University, is stunned by Mr Howard's move to prevent asylum seekers seeking
refugee status on Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef.
"The government has gone completely bananas, they've gone bonkers,"
said Dr Fonteyne, who specialises in the law of the sea and refugee law.
"It is completely ludicrous. There is no way whatsoever that that can be
in accordance with international legality."
Dr Fonteyne said Australia would be blatantly flouting international law if
legislation amending the Migration Act to exclude the territories from the
migration zone was passed."
As reported on The Age website 9 September 2001 and at posted at http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/2001/09/09/FFXBTZLACRC.html,
link live on December 29 2001, appears gone July 2003
Remember the story at the end
of time when the people are brought one at a time before The Son Of Man and some
are placed at his left hand? He said
(Mat 25:41-45) 'You that are
accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his
angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave
me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and
you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or
thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of
you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it
to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
He is speaking to us, as a nation. If this is how we treat the strangers, the
refugees among whom Jesus himself stands, how are we treating the poor and the
widows and the orphans?
This sermon is not just a
political diatribe about refugees. This is about the very fabric and nature of
our society. The way we treat asylum seekers shows how far we have fallen.
The church has called Jesus The
Son of God, God "in the flesh." It says we saw The Divine in this
human being above all human beings. In fact, as we think about it, we conclude
that God has planned this from the beginning... To fulfil the prophets.
This son of God was with the lowest of the low. He was a refugee by the calling
of God-- worshipped by the wise foreigners, and the unclean shepherds, but not
recognised by his own people.
Will we be the same and not recognise the sons and daughters of God who come to
us? What law will we obey... Jesus' call to compassion or the convenient,
selfish legalism of the land. Our Christian Discipleship will be judged by this.
Will we repeat the myths and lies about refugees and asylum seekers? Or will we
stand up to the xenophobes and racists of this land despite the lack of courage
and compassion of our political leaders?
Will we be Christians, or are we something less?
© Jan Thomas
2: 13-23 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in
a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to
Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the
child, to destroy him."
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,
and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been
spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and
he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years
old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then
was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice
was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her
children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in
Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land
of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then
Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father
Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went
away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called
Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled,
"He will be called a Nazorean."
The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian
Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States
of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.