Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE SAMARITAN IMPERATIVE AND THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

If the Samaritan is the moral imperative for universal health care, what is the role of government? 

"YES...BUT" I post the simple assertion that the good Samaritan story represents to the Christian community the call to respond, out of our neighborly sensitivity and ability, to all who are desperately hurting and dying.  The response from some has been: "but that means it's our responsibility, not the government's responsibility."  Without pressing to see how these who so protest are, in fact, responding to their neighbors who are struggling for life in a health care system that is drowning them, I think it might be helpful to reflect a bit more on the Samaritan story and on the implications of the role of government in social and health care.

WE ALL ARE TO BE LIKE THE SAMARITAN.  It seems to me that Jesus' telling of the story of the good Samaritan was not to point out that as one of Jesus' followers I can choose to help or choose to ignore those who are suffering. It also seems to me that Jesus' point was not to prove, as some try to assert, that it is not the government's responsibility to help people in physical need. What was the point of Jesus telling this story? That we all are to be like the Samaritan (and, specifically, not like the others who did not respond for whatever reason), to see our neighbor's needs as our own and respond as graciously as God has seen us in our need and responded to us as the Samaritan. Who was the neighbor to the man who was bleeding?  The Samaritan.  Who are we to love as ourselves, even as we love God?  Our neighbor.  What is the unmistakable implication of followers of Jesus?  Reflect the character of the Samaritan and respond to your neighbors in need as best you can.

NOT JUST INDIVIDUAL RESPONDERS, BUT A COMMUNITY RESPONSE.  We usually read, interpret and apply the Samaritan story individualistically, don't we?  But that's not how it was told or intended to be applied. It occurs to me that this story was not told to individuals, but to the believers and would-be believers together.  So, what is called for is not merely an individualistic response, but a community-wide response. Yes, there is an individual response.  But there is no less a community-wide response that his pointed to and implied.  The church has received the stories and teachings of Jesus not only as a personal invitation and imperative, but as a faith-community invitation and imperative.  It is no stretch to grasp the call to a community-wide response of universal compassion in this particular story of Jesus.

HELP US HELP OUR NEIGHBORS.  As to the role of government: Americans decided more than a generation ago that our individualistic and charitable responses to our fellow American neighbors in desperate need, though gracious, were being overwhelmed. As a people, we decided and contributed together to hold our government accountable for helping us help our neighbors in crises in specific situations. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other life-critical initiatives have helped millions of our neighbors and family members in preventative, life-sustaining and restorative ways. Collectively, we have been able to express our compassion and care at levels and in ways we could not have individually or as communities of faith alone. In some ways, we have held our government accountable to act more compassionately, more Christianly, than it would have or as some would have it do again. 

BACKSLIDING FROM OR RE-EMBRACING AN ETHIC.  It seems to me that we have collectively asked that the Samaritan principle be enacted as an expression of who we are at our best as a nation. To not act in this spirit and on this principle in regard to the many millions who are medically uninsured--and more becoming uninsured every day--would be to backslide from a basic underpinning of the Christian and compassion ethic that has contributed to our nation's integrity to this point.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

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Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.