Go and do likewise

While many people are becoming more comfortable with single payer healthcare–thanks to Bernie Sanders–many of my Christian compatriots live in a socially conservative milieu that has so totally embraced the myth of the bootstraps that it has turned the call for personal responsibility (an inarguable good) into an excuse to escape caring for other people when we have the means.

This was made clear to me when I shared Jessica Kantrowitz‘s post on twitter:

Understandably, some people objected.  For example, my mother, a careful reader of scripture, commented: “???? Never read that.”  In the discussion that followed, she said Christians are to be personally involved, “A real neighbor sees a need and gets personally involved.

And I totally agree with that.

However, it ends up being an excuse not to use taxes for social welfare since there is no “personal involvement.” But, the story of the Good Samaritan does not say the only way we are to help others is through personal involvement.

So, let me return to the original statement that provoked this discussion. It is a hyperbolic statement.  Jesus did not literally say “Pay for other people’s healthcare.”

But it would be a valid conclusion to draw from the story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus was asked “who is my neighbor?” by a man trying to make sure he met all the legal requirements the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He was trying to make sure he would merit eternal life.

In response, Jesus told a story that ended with a Samaritan paying for the care of the man he rescued (after two other “holy” men before him had passed by) and then promising to pay for any further costs when he was able to return.  After this story, Jesus asked, in the Socratic style of teaching, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

So, yes, Jesus didn’t say “Pay for other people’s health care” but he also did not say “Go be personally involved.” In fact, the story clearly shows the opposite: the Samaritan was personally involved, but when he couldn’t stay and personally take care of the man, he left him with someone else and left money to care for him.

And in the end, Jesus didn’t give the man asking him for spiritual advice an easy answer. He didn’t give any explicit direction. He said “Go and do likewise.” What that is in any situation differs.

Sure, like the Good Samaritan, Christians are called to get dirty helping others.

But, also like the Good Samaritan, we have to continue with our own business.

This doesn’t excuse us from caring for others when we cannot be personally involved. When we have other pressing matters we can give others the resources to care in our place, just as the Good Samaritan left the man with Innkeeper.

(Photograph by jean-louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

3 thoughts on “Go and do likewise”

  1. “has turned the call for personal responsibility (an inarguable good) into an excuse to escape caring for other people when we have the means.”

    The disagreement boils down to ‘we’. Construing “love thy neighbor as thyself” to mean “love thy neighbor via government proxy” seems dodgy theology on a good day.

    1. You’re right. “Love thy neighbor via government proxy” wasn’t what Jesus said. It is just one application.

      There is already love by proxy in the parable. The Samaritan continued to love his neighbor by using the innkeeper as a proxy after he had to continue on his way.

      In a democracy, the government is the people. We make decisions about what we want to do with our shared resources (i.e taxes).

  2. John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, when asked why he voted to expand Medicare in his state, said,

    “I don’t know about you, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”

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