One would think that churches would be clamoring to welcome and support Syrian refugees in the midst of the current international crisis. After all, providing hospitality for these people would mean more of Jesus and more of God among us. Jesus said that when churches welcome those who have nothing, they welcome Jesus himself and enjoy God’s presence (Mark 9:35-37).
Perhaps one factor that keeps us from doing what Jesus says is the felt need for security. “What if some of these refugees are terrorists? What if they are coming into this country to kill us? Isn’t this what happened in San Bernardino?”
These kinds of discussions are not appropriate for the church.
I am not saying that security is insignificant. Just that safety and security are concerns of governments. Service, hospitality, loving and welcoming strangers are the tasks of the church. The church is a distinct entity from any state or nation and it cannot be concerned with security, self-protection and self-preservation.
Jesus stresses this at several points in Mark’s Gospel.
In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus speaks of the word that goes out and finds different kinds of responses. This is the announcement of the cross-shaped kingdom that is led by a cross-directed Messiah and calls disciples to pick up their crosses and to lose their lives.
Some of this seed falls among thorns that grow up and choke it (vv. 7, 19). Explaining this image, Jesus says that “the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and desires concerning other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
Unfortunately, many English versions translate merimnai tou aiōnos in v. 19 to refer to the “cares of this life,” calling to mind daily hassles faced by individuals. But merimnai are “worries, anxieties, cares” and aiōnos is “the age”—“this present age,” as opposed to “the coming age.” The expression could also be translated as “cares for this age,” referring to the concern to guarantee the present social order, or the preservation of “our way of life.”
Among the “anxieties of the age” are self-preservation, self-protection, concerns about all that we will lose if we respond to Jesus’ call to become Kingdom-oriented communities.
These anxieties – these worries and concerns that have their origin in this age – will choke the word. A community that nurtures impulses for self-protection and self-preservation will not bear kingdom fruit.
There is too much to lose. The cost is too high.
Perhaps this is what Jesus means by “the deceitfulness of wealth.” We imagine that we can secure our possessions if we hold on to them, especially our lives and our security. But Jesus says that if we seek to secure our possessions and our lives, we will lose them.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul (Mark 8:34-36)?
Jesus calls the church to welcome the needy, serving and loving them. This may cost our lives, but we must remain faithful to what Jesus says at the cost of our personal safety, since following his call guarantees our safe and joyful arrival in the world to come.
The cross shapes the identity of the church, which is a people who have surrendered their rights to their lives and possessions at the start. If we begin to clutch at our possessions and worry about self-preservation and security, we risk becoming communities that do not bear Kingdom fruit. We risk surrendering our place in the world to come.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls the church to a radical form of community life that is at odds with this present age and its values. Counter-cultural communities that embody Kingdom life serve the needy and provide hospitality for the socially marginalized. Having surrendered all rights to our lives by becoming disciples, we cannot begin to speak of safety and security.