I know what to do about Syria.
I know, I know. You think that if a host of world experts, Security Council advisors, and even the President of the United States are hesitant about how to act, SURELY a 30-something Lutheran clergywoman doesn’t know.
Oh, but I do.
Even my husband, former Army Ranger, West Point graduate, strategist extraordinaire, can’t decide what’s a good idea.
But I know.
For me, figuring out what to do was like solving a puzzle. I’ve had the pieces for years, but now that stray one has come into my sight and the picture has aligned.
Are you ready? (Sit down.)
Problem: Tens of thousands of Syrians have died. Many will continue to die. Most recently, chemical weapons were employed to kill over 1400 women and children. The President of the United States previously stated that the use of chemical weapons was a line that could not be crossed without repercussions. No one can decide what the repercussions should be or will be or what the goals of such actions should be or will be. We have few if any significant allies if we attack.
Complications: The entire region is unstable. China and Russia, as well as Iran and others, will add Syria if we attack. Americans will surely die if we attempt to punish Syria. Americans will likely die if we do nothing. Syrians are dying every day. Innocent Syrians are perishing- lives ended as mere footnotes in the history of a volatile region.
Solution: The Parable of the Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-3)
To paraphrase, Jesus tells this story: A steward has been cooking his master’s books and now has been found out. He decides to improve his chances of getting a job elsewhere by tipping the scales in the favors of those who owe his master. 900 gallons of olive oil? Let’s make it 450 and call it good. A thousand bushels of wheat? Who needs that much- he’ll be fine with eight hundred.
So it goes. The steward tries to cushion his fall at his master’s expense. When the master sees this development, he PRAISES the steward. The cleverness of the steward’s actions made his master more well liked and saved his own hide. Jesus sums up the story by telling his listeners to think like the manager. In the Common English Bible, Jesus teaches: “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
The time has come for America to take a page from the Dishonest Steward Handbook. The empty threat of repercussions makes us look like a paper tiger. We talk big, but we don’t have the will to follow through with the punishment that was implied. Being unable to act swiftly, harshly, and decisively to the use of chemical weapons is our equivalent of being called out for cooking the books. Since it has happened, we must now rebalance the ledger to show that we are clever, we are strong, and we remain a force for strength and power in the world.
Where was the money for a missile strike going to be found? If it was there, it still is. Let us use that money to ease the effects of the serious drought in east Africa. Let’s increase our humanitarian aid to the continued struggle with Fukushima radiation in Japan.
How about supporting vaccination programs, anti-malaria campaigns, and the effort to bring clean water to many places? Let America lead the charge in mending relationships with First Nations peoples. It’s time to consult with other countries and join in a plan for prenatal and neonatal maternal, fetal, and infant health.
Does a country owe us money? Is someone greatly in our debt? How can we ease the burden? What would cut the debt in half?
The money that would have gone to missile strikes can and should be redirected toward building relationships with other countries and within our borders. The use of this wealth (which was already planned for allocation) to build and rebuild, burnish and refurbish our relationships across the globe can go a long way. We can use all the strong and positive relationships we can get. Our reputation as a nation-builder can only grow if we are actually building and making growth from within possible through the cushion of financial stability.
Pastors usually don’t like the Parable of the Dishonest Steward because it’s confusing and frustrating. I’ve felt that way myself. Until now.
Now, it seems clear that this story offers not only a prescription for saving national face, but it specifically proscribes how an alleged “Christian nation” should act. We cannot pretend that we are living in a peaceful time. That’s a lie. If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But we can move forward. There is a way.
We can make for ourselves friends with the wealth that we have accumulated through various just and unjust means. We can make allies for ourselves by using what we were willing to spend on destruction. We can heal our reputation and show that we are trustworthy with the great lot that we have been given. It is all within our grasp.
I told you I knew the solution.
Now, who’s listening?