Aug 292009

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_022Yes, there is such a parable in the original. The first several times I didn’t realize what it was about; Jesus insists on framing the question in a way that invalidates most of our categories of discussing the issue. I’ve taken the liberty of writing my own paraphrase, with a few hopefully not-entirely-unwarranted interpolations and transpositions, to make it as immediate to you as it was to me when I saw it. The categories of people in Jesus’ story have become people who might correspond in our society. If you’re interested in debating the current political discussion on health care, I’m sure there are lots of other places on the Internet for you to do so– this is about something much bigger.  EMP

A theologian came up to Jesus one day and said, “Teacher, what exactly, in your opinion, does a person have to do to inherit eternal life?”

“Do?” said Jesus. “Well, if it’s a question of doing, I suppose you’d better start with the Law of Moses. What does it say to you?”

“Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself,” said the theologian promptly.

“Good answer,” said Jesus. “If you can do that, you’re all set.”

“Well,” said the theologian, hemming and hawing a bit, “of course, we have to understand these things with the proper doctrinal and textual nuance inherent in the social and kerygmatical context of the times. For instance, how, contextually, would you interpret the word ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus smiled sadly and said, “Let me tell you this story….

This guy was walking down the road one day, minding his own business, when all of a sudden a street gang jumped on him, beat him up, took all his money, and got away with it. The gang left him lying in the gutter, bleeding all over the place, broken bones, semi-conscious, barely alive.

Well, who should come along but a prominent conservative pastor. The conservative took a look at the guy in the gutter and felt sorry for him. But he figured that it was not his fault if somebody didn’t have enough street smarts to look out for himself in a bad neighborhood, and anyway it wouldn’t be right for someone to require him to give his hard-earned money away to the undeserving. So he crossed over to the other side of the street.

Walking the other way was a liberal community worker, and when he saw the conservative guy ignore the hurting man like that, he started an argument with him. “It isn’t right to refuse health care to people who need it– but not by taking my money– but everyone should have an equal chance– but that will give the government too much control– but the insurance companies are….” They got so into their argument that they walked away together, and left the man in the gutter.

So then a socialist came by. A genuine bleeding-heart socialist, who was in favor of gay rights and PETA and legalizing marijuana and the whole bit. He saw the guy bleeding to death in the gutter, and he grabbed a first aid kit and started putting bandages on his wounds. Then he helped him into his Prius and drove him to the nearest hospital. Stayed with him the whole time, and told the doctors and nurses everything he could to help. Eventually they stabilized the guy and got him on life support. The socialist said, “I don’t think this guy has any insurance, so I tell you what– Here’s a few hundred dollars now, and you can send the rest of the bill to me; I’ll take care of it myself.”

“Now,” said Jesus, “you tell me: Which one of these people was a neighbor to the man who needed health care?”

“The one who actually did something for him,” said the theologian.

“Well then,” said Jesus, “go do it.”


The original: Luke 10:25-37. Note, I chose the “socialist” simply because I thought he might be as shocking to the present-day church as the Samaritan was to the Jews– no other political statement should be inferred.

.Note, I chose the “socialist” simply because I thought he might be as shocking to the present-day church as the Samaritan was to the Jews– no other political statement should be inferred.