Since 1999, the late Hugo Chavez and his disciples in the Fifth Republic Movement have been in power in Venezuela. Their policies of cultural and political hegemony have exacerbated an already delicate situation in the South American country such that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that more than six million Venezuelans have left their home country because of a lack of reliable food, water, and electricity and the constant threat of violence. The Venezuelan refugee crisis is the third-largest external displacement crisis in the world, behind the worn-torn countries of Syria and Ukraine. Refugees from Venezuela are often left with only the clothes on their backs as they escape violence, oppression, and degradation. The vast majority of them have settled in Latin and North America. More than 50% have landed in Peru, and close to a quarter are here in the United States trying to navigate the convoluted and expensive asylum process.
Adding insult to injury, earlier this week, 48 Venezuelan asylum seekers – men, women, and a dozen elementary aged children – were put on airplanes with no indication as to where they were going. Vulnerable, confused, and afraid, they were transported from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a mostly rural, island community about three hours south of Boston. Stuck in the middle of an ongoing fight between Republicans and Democrats, these 48 human beings were nothing more than pawns for politicians as they argue the merits of their own version of immigration reform. Faced with 48 new residents who arrived unannounced and without much more than a backpack’s worth of belongings, the residents of Martha’s Vineyard had a choice to make on Wednesday afternoon. They could throw up their hands and say, “not our problem.” They could call on immigration officers to come handle it. Or, as they did, they could welcome the stranger in their midst, loving their Venezuelan neighbors as themselves.
According to the Martha’s Vineyard Times, at about 5 pm, less than two hours after the flights had landed, the Dukes County Sherriff addressed the asylum seekers. “We’re going to take care of you,” he said through a translator, “Get all your personal belongings together and then we’ll move… The most important thing is we get you food and shelter and water.” Their first stop was the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School where they were given food, water, and temporary shelter. Ninety minutes later, school buses rolled out from the high school to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown where they spent two nights. Edgartown Pizza provided dinner. Mocha Motts brought coffee. Local lawyers supplied legal aid, while dentists and doctors offered medical care. When faced with a people being used as “unrighteous mammon” for political gain, the people of Edgartown and Martha’s Vineyard showed compassion, grace, and love, and they proved themselves faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The 150 members of St. Andrew’s were, one might argue, faithful with the little they have while ministering to human beings that others considered to be unrighteous.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is probably the most difficult parable Jesus ever told. In most parables, we can easily figure out the allegorical relationships. In the parable of the lost sheep, we realize pretty quickly that God is the shepherd and human beings are the sheep, but here, it’s not quite so simple. God being a greedy master who violated the Torah and charged exorbitant interest on his loans doesn’t quite work. Jesus as the unrighteous servant who cheated his boss to save his own tail isn’t quite right either. It’s not real obvious what exactly Jesus wants us to glean from this parable as it is read in isolation this morning. When we find its place in the larger story, however, things begin to come into focus. The parable of the shrewd manager comes on the heels of three parables about lost things. We heard two of them last Sunday. The parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The lectionary skipped over the parable of the prodigal or lost son, and now here we are with this strange story about debt relief.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus ended up telling this story because of the bad pun about the Pharisees that Mother Becca told us she grew up learning – “that’s not fair, you see.” I wonder if the reaction to the three lost stories was the same as the reaction of the elder son to his prodigal brother’s return and his dad throwing a party in response, “it’s just not fair!” “All this rejoicing at those who were lost, who because of their own bad choices failed and became lost, it just isn’t fair.” It’s the same response we hear about Narcan saving the lives of those who have overdosed on fentanyl, “it’s not fair.” It’s the same response we hear about those who are having a portion of their student loan interest forgiven, “it’s not fair.” It’s the same response we hear about those who left everything they knew to escape poverty and violence in Venezuela and ended up in Texas searching for a better life, “it’s not fair.” Jesus is clear in this crazy parable, life in the Kingdom of God isn’t fair. Life in the Kingdom of God is a life in which God has written off the debt of sin that all of us carry. None of us deserve the grace that has been given to us in Christ Jesus, and that is precisely the point.
Our response to the illogical and unfair grace of God is what Jesus seems to be getting at in this parable. We can choose to think that none of this is fair, to hoard grace for ourselves, and to ignore the needs of those around us, but that won’t take us very far in the ridiculous economy of God. It might make us feel better in this highly individualized, 21st century America, but it won’t carry much weight in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our other choice, the one I think Jesus would have us choose considering this parable, is to realize that none of this is fair and to give away as much grace and mercy as we possibly can – to take every last thing entrusted to our care and to share it with our neighbors, strangers and friends alike.
It isn’t hard for me to imagine how Christ Church might respond to a situation like the one St. Andrew’s Edgartown found itself in on Wednesday night. Whether it is Room in the Inn, Churches United HELP Ministry, Wednesday Community Lunch, or hosting Narcotics Anonymous meetings, there’s a lot of stuff we do around here about which some would say “it’s not fair,” but using the resources we have for the betterment of our neighbors is exactly what this congregation has shown itself to be about. We are, and will continue to be, faithful with what we have been given so that we might be entrusted by God to be faithful with even more. That we have so much isn’t fair. It is only right that how we use this massive physical plant and our abundant and historical finances should be wildly unfair to the glory of God. Giving away those things that will pass away is the only way to cling tightly to that which shall endure, eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Amen.