I have to admit I had a hard time deciding how to respond to the government shutdown.
There’s just so many different angles to choose from.
I could rant about how the far right wing of the GOP apparently thinks we’re all dumb and ignorant about how the political process works, how they assume none of us were paying attention in third grade when we learned that negotiation and debate take place before laws are passed, then those laws are voted on, and if passed and not struck down by the Supreme Court, they become law. But apparently they think we’re stupid enough to believe that a minority or Congressional members can just hijack the political process and call a do over when they don’t get their way. Because apparently Congress operates on playground rules.
Actually that last part may be true.
I could point out the blatant hypocrisy in those who rail against publicly funded and mandated healthcare one day, then get up the next morning and take their kids to get a publicly funded and mandated education.
Or I could talk about how the far right wing of the GOP seems to care more about winning at all costs than they do helping the American people or, you know, actually doing their jobs and passing a budget.
But since this is a faith and politics column I want to talk about how, as people who claim to be emulating Christ to the world, we should be responding to the mess over the Affordable Care Act.
You see, for all the bluster and posturing and rhetoric by both sides, as Christians the issue of healthcare is actually rather simple.
In Matthew 25, Jesus describes exactly how he will separate the sheep and the goats, that is to say how he will judge who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. Surprisingly for some of us, Jesus doesn’t give a theological pop quiz, nor does he say he’ll be standing at the pearly gates with a checklist to make sure we agree to all the right doctrines.
Instead, Jesus says he’ll look and each and everyone of us and say, “I was hungry. Did you feed me? I was thirsty. Did you give me something to drink? I was naked. Did you clothe me? I was sick and in prison. Did you come and take care of me?”
You caught that last part, right?
Because it’s super important.
Because Jesus goes on to say if we’re doing these things for the least of these, then we’re really doing them for Jesus, but if we’re not doing them, then we’re not just neglecting the poor, we’re really neglecting Jesus.
So, let me repeat those last words of Jesus one more time just so we don’t miss them.
“I was sick. Did you provide me with healthcare?”
And notice there aren’t any caveats or conditions to Jesus’ command. He doesn’t say “unless it’s through the government” or “unless you’re mandated by federal law” or “unless you just don’t like paying taxes.”
He just says, “Did you do it or not?”
Which means the whole “I do want to help people, but I just don’t want the government to force me to help other people” argument just doesn’t hold a lot of water in the church because there are no qualifiers for grace, no preconditions or loop holes that will allow up to opt out of extending grace to others just because we don’t like the opportunity we’ve been given to incarnate Christ to our neighbors.
But isn’t grace supposed to be freely given?
Of course, but as Christians, our free choice was whether or not to follow Christ, not whether or not we would do what he said once we started following him. His command to extend grace to the least of these isn’t an option. It’s a command. A mandate. We don’t get to pick and choose which commands we’re going to follow. Jesus says “go and do likewise” and either we do or we stop pretending to be Christians.
In other words, we have a mandate for grace.
We have a mandate to love and care for those around us no matter the cost.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Now, I know that doesn’t jive with our American sensibilities and our lust for freedom and choice, but Christianity isn’t a democracy. It’s discipleship.
The grace we extend is freely given because we made a free choice to follow the one who commands us to extend it.
Which is why, as Christians, the government mandate for healthcare is actually redundant (but apparently a necessary once since we weren’t already doing it on our own). We were commanded to offer healthcare to all 2,000 years ago. We have a direct mandate from the God we claim to worship to provide healthcare for everyone everywhere.
But how can paying taxes to support healthcare be an act of grace?
Obviously we have a legal obligation and a render unto Caesar obligation to pay our taxes. However, we do have a choice in who we vote for. We do have a choice in what policies we support. And we do have a choice in the causes we rally behind and the causes we denounce.
But because we have a mandate for grace, how and when we extend that grace is not a choice we that have. We have to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. There are no qualifies, no exemptions. We extend it whenever and wherever we can. Always and without ceasing.
Even when we don’t want to.
And especially when it means extending that grace will quite literally save lives.
That’s not to say we should blindly accept everything that comes from Washington as a divine edict. There is still room to disagree and debate and to point out the flaws even in great pieces of legislation, but we have to careful.
We have to make sure we’re fighting against a genuinely bad policy and not just fighting to win a political debate.
Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in the ridiculous position we are now where men and women claiming to be followers of Christ are screaming and shouting at the top of their lungs in hopes of avoiding extending the grace of healthcare to their neighbors.
To put it another way, if we’re not careful, we’ll become the bleating goats in Matthew 25 who looked back at Jesus and said “But Lord, when did we see you sick and in need of healthcare?”
And Jesus will simply reply “Whatever you didn’t do for the least of these you didn’t do for me.”
Grace and Peace,