Franciscan Spirit Blog

Syrians on the Run

“Who is my neighbor?” That question is perhaps the most provocative one in all the Gospels (Lk 10:29ff). Jesus answers his wise inquisitor with a parable. It begins: “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.”We have seen as much in Syria over the past 4½ years. Robbers—the Islamic State and opposing Syrian-government force—came into their cities, towns, and homes and attacked them, one way or another. 

These robbers have bombed them, terrorized, gassed, and killed them. The victims who were able fled for their lives. They walked across the desert, thousands and more thousands of men, women, and children, seeking the mercy of neighbors.

We Americans watched from afar. Our military has been involved, ineffectively, as Syria has unraveled. And we’ve been hesitant to take care of the refugees.

Out of Sight

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a long, gradual descent near the Dead Sea, about 16 miles of dirt and dust, surrounded in places by rocky crags, places where it is easy to hide. It looks like that to this day, though the road is now a highway. It falls off to the side in large ditches, easy places in biblical times to cast off a victim of violence, perhaps out of plain view.

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“A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite  . . . passed by on the opposite side.” One can imagine the victim was moaning, injured, immobile, calling for help. The priest and Levite are a bit like us, tending to our children or grandchildren, deeply committed to our all-consuming jobs or community responsibilities, our recent elections, all for good and loving reasons.

They—and we—cross to the far side of the road, pretending we don’t see or hear, despite the moans or cries. We look away in spite of the news photos of the Syrians on the run. We won’t call them our neighbors, or our brothers and sisters, but, more distantly, “Syrian refugees.” They are a group of people, an object, in a ditch on the other side of the road, somebody else’s problem.

Paltry Relief

Along comes help, Jesus continues. Forget that our Good Samaritan is an outsider; he is a man who sees suffering and is moved with compassion. He sees, is moved, and acts, caring for the man, even taking him to an inn.

We, you and I, almost all of us, have crossed the road, averting our eyes, since, beginning in 2012, our Syrian brothers and sisters have fled for their lives. They’re not like us, we say. These Muslim Syrians (5 percent are Christian) might be terrorists—aren’t most of them? How can we trust that they’re not? Besides, we have our own problems, our own responsibilities—we’re busy!

We walk to the far side of the road, avert our eyes, cover our ears, and hurry along the way. It’s year five. We’ve sent our emissaries to plead peace. We carry out our complicated military strategies, perhaps as much about oil as anything. And we ignore the refugees at our doorstep, in Canada, all across Europe, in the Middle East.

The United States promised to take in 10,000 refugees this past fiscal year, finally, and we took in 12,587. Canada, one-ninth as populous as the United States, had taken in 25,000 already by February 2016. Compare that, though, to Amnesty International’s report of a whopping 4.5 million Syrian refugees in only five surrounding countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

We have taken in fewer than three-thousandths of the displaced Syrians.

“Who was this man’s neighbor?” asks Jesus. “The one who treated him with mercy,” replies the wise inquisitor. “Go and do likewise, says Jesus.” It’s time that we step up our game.

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