The story we hear today from Luke’s gospel is one of Jesus’ most vivid and harsh parables.
There’s the poor man, Lazarus, covered with sores, sitting outside the gates of the rich man’s home. He’s so hungry he would be happy with the crumbs from the sumptuous feasts that the rich man eats every day. But the rich man never even acknowledges him.
When they both die, Lazarus, the poor man, goes to heaven, where he is comforted by Abraham, the great patriarch of the faith.
But the nameless rich man, who lived so well on earth, is sent to hell, where despite his pleadings he remains.
This is a hard story to hear, and a hard one to preach on, particularly in a church that is located in the wealthiest zip code in the state, on a street where every property is gated, except for ours.
Every time I hear this story I think about the homeless man who sits outside the post office, the people who call or come here for help, the woman I frequently drive past who is endlessly walking, carrying all her earthly belongings with her.
I don’t think about the people I have helped; I think about the ones I haven’t. This story makes me uncomfortable, and it should. It should make all of us uncomfortable because no matter how tight our budgets may be, none of us are Lazarus in this story.
But today I’d like to look at this parable a little differently. The news of the past couple of weeks has given me a new lens through which to see this old story.
Most of the teaching of scripture can be directed at the nation, as well as individuals. This week I’ve been seeing our nation as the rich man, and the migrants at our southern border as Lazarus.
I want to start by saying I know immigration is a huge problem for our country, one that decades of leadership in both parties has failed to adequately address.
And I know that for states and towns along the borders this is not an abstract issue, but one that they deal with daily. Heroic work is being done by congregations and individuals in those areas.
I don’t pretend to know the answers to our immigration problems, but I do know what our faith demands of our response to those crossing our borders — that they be treated humanely and with dignity and respect.
Scripture is very clear on this. God repeatedly instructs people of faith on how we are to treat immigrants, or as scripture calls them, “resident aliens.”
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” God says in the Book of Exodus to the people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land.
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien,” God adds in Leviticus. “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself.”
“You and the alien shall be alike before the Lord,” we hear in the Book of Numbers. “You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.”
And as we heard a few weeks ago in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so some have entertained angels unaware.”
There’s no wiggle room or ambiguity here. Offering hospitality to the stranger, treating the immigrant with dignity and respect is at the foundation of our faith.
But hospitality, dignity, and respect are not what we have seen played out by some of our leaders in recent weeks.
In April, the governor of Texas began filling buses with migrants and sending them to Washington, New York, and Chicago.
No one denies that Texas is experiencing the brunt of the burden of immigration. Other cities and states should be helping.
But that is not what this is about. The mayors of Washington and New York had no advanced warning that busloads of migrants would soon be deposited on their streets. It is the human equivalent of dumping puppies or kittens on the side of the road, an action we would find despicable.
This week the mayor of New York said he has asked leaders in Texas to let him know when buses were sent to him, so that they could coordinate efforts to make sure everyone received the care they needed. The governor of Texas refused.
In the past two weeks the political maneuvering increased with buses from Texas ejecting migrants in front of the Vice President’s residence in Washington, and the governor of Florida sending two planes of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
Again, there was no advanced warning to any officials in Washington or Martha’s Vineyard, although Fox News did know when to show up to film migrants getting off the plane.
The migrants, most of whom were from Venezuela, told the same story. They were approached in Texas by a tall, blonde woman, who promised them work and housing in Massachusetts. Others were promised eight months of cash assistance, food, housing, clothing, and job training.
Once they agreed they were put up in a hotel in San Antonio until there were enough people to fill the planes, paid for by Florida taxpayers.
It wasn’t until they got off the plane that they realized that the promises were all lies.
These migrants are here legally, seeking asylum from the terrible and dangerous conditions of their homeland. Like Lazarus, who would have been content with the crumbs from the rich man’s table, they want jobs, no matter how menial the work may be.
But instead they have become political pawns.
“It’s inhumane, it’s un-American, and it’s unethical,” the mayor of New York said.
I would add that it is profoundly unchristian.
But then something surprising happened. The governors of Florida and Texas may not respect the dignity of the migrants, but real Christians showed up in Martha’s Vineyard.
When word got out of the unexpected arrivals, the people on the island went to work. Chip Seadale, the rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, was at a conference in North Carolina when a staff member called to tell him what was happening.
He immediately said to offer the church’s facilities as shelter for all who needed it. Food, water, and other supplies appeared. Spanish teachers and students from the local high school showed up to serve as translators. Immigration lawyers arrived. Government officials went into action, working to find more suitable shelter and services on the mainland.
At a service this past Thursday, leaders and members from St. Andrew’s and other local churches got together to reflect on what happened.
Seadale praised the volunteers for not categorizing people based on perceived differences or political pawns, but rather seeing them as “infinitely valuable human beings.”
The Rev. Cathlin Baker, pastor of the island’s First Congregational Church, called Seadale’s response to the crisis a “holy yes.”
“A question was asked, and he said yes,” she said. “The holy yes was a yes to the dignity of each person.”
The holy yes is how all people of faith are called to respond to the Lazaruses at our gate.