A timeless question: Who is my neighbor?
July 12, 2005
The story of the Good Samaritan is an eye opening account of mercy. A man attacked and left to die alongside a road watches painfully as traveler after traveler walks by. I can only imagine the thoughts of those walking past him, “Where were the police to protect this man?”, “I hope somebody called an ambulance?”, “Where is motorist assist when you really need them?”, “I’m late! I hope the next traveler has more time to help this man.”
Finally, after some time, another man comes along and seeing the injured man, stops, reaches down, takes his hand, tends his wounds, and provides his boarding. Who was this masked man? He didn’t come from the police department or city hall or the ambulance district or MODOT or any government agency.
No, he was simply a fellow traveler and we have come to know him as the Good Samaritan. He didn’t ask questions; he didn’t complain about the lack of help from others; he didn’t tell the man how to get in touch with a government social worker; he simply served his fellow man without any prompting or prodding from civil government; in fact, he didn’t even expect to be reimbursed by the government for his trouble.
It was necessary for Jesus to tell this story in Luke’s Gospel to demonstrate the Christian principle of special consideration to the poor and vulnerable, because of a lawyer who found it necessary to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
This past session the Missouri General Assembly was faced with the mounting cost of the state’s welfare programs. The growth of these programs has outpaced our ability to pay and is infringing upon the state’s constitutional duties to fund other vital programs. Difficult decisions were made by Gov. Matt Blunt and the General Assembly. We could either raise taxes or begin the trek down the long road that leads to reforming our ailing, 40-year old welfare system. Our actions led to a plan that prevents waste, fraud, and abuse and preserves a vibrant program that still serves more than 900,000 of Missouri’s neediest and most vulnerable.
Throughout the debate it became apparent that we, God’s people, may have forgotten who our neighbor is. For some, it has been decided that is better to give over to government those responsibilities that have been reserved for God’s people. Throughout the history of the New Testament Church it has been Christians who have time after time stepped up to meet the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of people around the world without the intervention of civil government.
For too long we have measured compassion in Missouri, not by the success of the ministry of the church to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the less fortunate, but by the number of Missourians we bind to our state’s welfare rolls.
We have been deceived by the siren call of well-meaning, compassionate people pushing a form of “soft socialism” steeped in biblical quotations where civil government, not Christ, is the only savior for God’s children who find themselves burdened by life’s circumstances.
This “soft socialism” is often set to the music of such passages as Matt. 25:35-36, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” These are acts that depend not on wealth, ability, or intellect; rather, these are simple acts that can be freely administered and freely received by anyone. Jesus does not instruct us to turn these opportunities for ministry over to civil government, but demands that we become personally involved with the ministry of caring for one another’s needs.
To do otherwise is a denial of the proper roles of the individual, family, church, community, and civil government regarding the issues of poverty and charity in our society.
This approach of assigning to civil government the problems of our most needy short changes, and even diminishes the person in need and denies God’s people the opportunity to perform life-changing ministry. Even worse, it can lead to spiritual laziness. We must never allow the barometer of our social conscience and charitable concerns to be measured by the government’s willingness to take care of our neighbor.
One writer gives this perspective, “The poor, in surrendering them to the care of the government, are increasingly estranged from the family, church, charity, or local community who would benefit greatly by becoming involved in the life of someone who requires real help. There is a mutual benefit in all of these relationships that form the firmest foundations of civil society. In these relationships, we can care for the poor and, more importantly, see the whole person and experience the dignity that is inherent in the human soul.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan begins in chapter 10, verse 25 of Luke’s Gospel with a lawyer asking Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The parable ends in verse 37 with the lawyer’s response to Jesus’ lesson in the parable of which man was the injured man’s neighbor saying, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”
Jesus then made it abundantly clear to us our command, “Go and do the same.”
There is a legitimate role for civil government in providing assistance to the needy, but it should always be the last line of defense and never the first. I agree that God can, and does, use anybody to accomplish His purposes. I also believe that He takes great pleasure in inviting His people to join Him in accomplishing His plan and that He grieves when we pass that invitation off to paid bureaucrats. (Rep. Doug Ervin, R-Holt, serves the 35th district in the Missouri General Assembly)