Go and Do Likewise

I practice Jesuit (that is Ignatian) spirituality and at its core is the Greatest Commandment. It dominates my life and specifically here, my politics.

I practice Jesuit (that is Ignatian) spirituality. At its core is the Greatest Commandment which dominates my life and, specifically for this discussion, my politics (more on that later).

Let’s look at the how important this is in Luke:

The Greatest Commandment. There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28 (NABre)

Love of God includes love of neighbor. It is one of the direct signs of the love of God. It’s not an accident then, that who “my neighbor” is is critically important and likely why St. Luke connected the commandment directly to the parable of The Good Samaritan.

In the story, Jesus contrasts what is correct behavior vs. good behavior. The scholar of the law is ostensibly asking him, “And who should I love?” but he was really looking to show that he has loved the right people, i.e. his fellow Jews, people in his family, etc. Jesus knows this of course and turns it on its head. Before we read though, a bit of context: Jews and Samaritans were ancient bitter rivals since the Babylonian exile. Such was the enmity and disdain Jews had for Samaritans that they risked traveling on the remote and dangerous road to Jericho so they would not even have to breathe Samaritan air along what would be safer, more populated routes. It’s this context that the story unfolds.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan. But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

Luke 10:29-32 (NABre)

The Jews here, a Levite of the priestly tribe and an actual priest, were doing what was considered correct behavior. They would become ritually impure if they came in contact with a dead body and, especially for the priest, would be unable attend the business he might have in Jericho. This is the significance of the robbers leaving this man “half-dead.” He’s unconscious, bloodied and beaten. No doubt he wasn’t the first body they would see nor the last. So it’s important to recognize that they aren’t being monsters. Demands of life and a perspective the prioritizes correctness leads to this outcome.

Then Jesus pulls out the familiar plot twist to show us what neighbor really means.

But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:33-37 (NABre)

Go and do likewise. Not think likewise. Do. And what did the Samaritan do? Everything he could to set things right. That’s justice. And that’s why this story speaks powerfully to my politics, especially about healthcare. So unsurprisingly, I strongly support universal healthcare for one simple reason: Jesus taught a very simple commandment and that I should go and do as it commands. He even gave healthcare as his example! Incidentally that is why it’s a human right.

Often this story is conflated with charity, but that is not so. The Samaritan doesn’t merely stop quickly to maybe bind the man’s wounds, revive him and leave him some supplies. He stops his trip to bind the victim’s wounds and care for him for a full day. He even pays for room, board and continued care until his health is restored. He, a despised Samaritan, did this for a Jew he did not even know.

This example perfectly illustrates why I take such a dim view of “I don’t want to pay for your healthcare!” from people who say they’re Christians. (You can imagine my utter contempt for GOP talking points like “Healthcare is a responsibility.”) Jesus’ instruction is also why my politics appear progressive. It’s no secret Bernie Sanders, et. al. support the same healthcare policy outcomes I do. And it is true that I also support some form single payer health insurance. But unlike progressives who might support that position because of some political ideology, I do so for purely technocratic reasons. It’s just how the insurance math works. If there was a free market solution to providing universal healthcare, so be it. The outcome is the same and what I care about.

A mentor of mine corrected me once when I said universal healthcare was “socialized medicine” saying, “No, it’s civilized medicine.”

Most frustrating to me are the “Levites” and “priests” of our world who prefer the correctness of an ideology to the goodness of God. As Christians, Jesus is supposed to be first in our lives and it irks me to no end when those of us try to justify opposition even to very idea of universal healthcare, of “go and do likewise,” on the flimsiest of grounds.

The craziest of them flat out defy reality, e.g. “socialized medicine” destroying free nations complete with the obligatory dystopian images of bread lines and Soviet flags, never mind most of the advanced world has these so-called socialized systems. A mentor of mine corrected me once when I defined universal healthcare as “socialized medicine” saying, “No, it’s civilized medicine.” Oops.

Then there are the “moral” objections, i.e. it is wrong to compel people to do good or care for one another. Volunteerism is the proper means to bring about a public good. This is blinkered at best and outright hypocrisy at worst. Our laws are based on the idea that people can and should be compelled to do things for the public good: paying for car insurance, getting a driver’s license, and of course paying taxes. But blinkered thinking gives way to hypocrisy when one objects to being forced to pay those two silver coins while say wholeheartedly trampling on a woman’s right to choose when to have a baby. Apparently some people should be forced for the public good just not those who “don’t want to pay for your healthcare.”

And let’s not forget the fiscal conservatives who speak of skyrocketing costs and unaffordability. They do have a point that healthcare is not cheap. The harsh reality is we don’t have infinite resources and cost always rations healthcare. But that is hardly an objection strong enough to discredit the idea. Crime has yet to be eliminated and I’ve never heard anyone seriously suggest we get rid of police. What we should be doing is working hard to optimize the balance between providing the best care we can for everyone while making the system affordable (or else there is no system). Hence why I favor single payer insurance.

To me, these objections are the clearest sign of idolatry at work. Human creations that have become false gods to which people have put their faith: capitalism, conservatism, markets. Facts, even logic, be damned. Christ is supposed to be our God. It’s not complicated what our values should be on this issue. Policy is another story. We can debate policy as is the normal functioning of any healthy democracy. But what is not up for debate as far as I’m concerned is whether Christ’s simple directive is right: go and do likewise.