Thursday, April 16, 2009

Am I My Neighbor's Keeper?

Am I my neighbor's keeper?

I am hearing this question being asked and answered with greater frequency--if not vehemence--in today's political climate. Conservatives are saying, "No, I am not my neighbor's keeper. I am responsible for me, myself, and I." Liberals are saying, "Yes, I am my neighbor's keeper, and this responsibility to our neighbor really has no limits."

Who is right?

I want to suggest that both are right and both are wrong.

My conservative peeps, from their perspective of rugged individualism, insist that they are only responsible for themselves. On the most charitable reading, I think what they are saying is that "the gov't has no right to take my hard earned money and give it to a bunch of freeloaders. A society cannot endure that has a dependent and growing class of people who are unproductive. Therefore, everyone needs to assume responsibility for themselves."

And surely they are correct as far as it goes.

But conservatives are wrong to insist that our neighbor can make no claim upon us. And they are wrong that we are only responsible for ourselves. Life is not simply a case of an everybody-for-themselves game and only the strong survive. The Lord Jesus clearly teaches that we do have a responsibility for our neighbors. And He shows us another way of being human.

When asked what does it mean to love my neighbor in the way the Law commands, Jesus responds with his famous parable of the Good Samaritan. The nice, respectable religious types (& probably 'conservative') noticed the injured man, and passed by on the other side. They justified their non-involvement. Jesus clearly condemns such an attitude. Our neighbor in a very real sense can make claims upon us. Jesus really does expect and call us to love others, even with sacrificial love. His Kingdom is about the shalom of humanity (meaning, essentially, the prospering of humanity). That's why the Samaritan who was moved into action by compassion for his unknown neighbor and who overcome all sorts of cultural & religious barriers, is the hero of the story. He got it.

Liberals, on the other hand, are right in their instincts that our neighbor can make certain claims upon us, but wrong in the way they go about ensuring that neighbor's are loved.

To understand this, substitute the word statist for liberal and you'll understand why (liberals typically answer the right questions with the wrong answer: more gov't). Statists want the government to take care of our neighbors for us. The 'solution' necessarily involves the State taking money (ie. taxes) away from citizen A to give it to citizen B. My liberal peeps say as much: If the State doesn't do it, then who will? And conveniently, those in the gov't who implement these policies gain more adherents and more power, and typically more wealth for themselves.

We are called by the Lord Jesus to be human in a different way than is typically defined by either liberals or conservatives. We are called to be industrious, AND we are called to use our wealth, in part, to serve our neighbors in need. This is not a matter of giving handouts, but seeking real healing of our world. And real healing--real prosperity--cannot be defined by having a permanent entitlement class (the result of statist policy). And it cannot happen if we are only self-interested (conservative policy).

And of course, we'll only be moved to genuine living and love toward our neighbor when we are on board with the agenda of Christ and His Kingdom, which is neither liberal nor conservative. It's not even American.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Great Samaritan, and until we understand that for our sakes he became poor so that we might become rich, how He was THE neighbor we so desperately needed when we were lying dead in our sins--until that reality defines us, we'll be tossed back and forth between the typical self-centered view of conservatism and the state-centered view of liberalism.

When we are Christ-centered, our loves will be ordered after His agenda, and our neighbors will be loved.

Click here to read the Parable of the Good Samaritan.


Heather said...

Muy bien dicho mi amor. The polarization that has simplified the argument has not done us as a nation, culture, and body well.

You are wise and I am so proud to be your chosen bride.

Courtney said...

Amen and amen. Excellent take John.

John said...

Where did you get all them smarts?

Nan said...

Very well said. Very, very well said. I had this conversation with some people recently... sadly, they didn't buy it and thought, "WHAT? You mean WE'RE supposed to help these people?! Isn't that the government's job?!"

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed this article very much. I think it's one of your best. Praise God and may we be broken before the Savior.