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Blanche Lincoln and Mike Ross: Who is Your Neighbor?

Vincent Van Gogh’s The Good Samaritan

Have you heard about conservatives wanting to re-write the Bible, to take out all the liberal stuff? That’ll be pretty hard, given the kinds of stories that Jesus was so fond of telling.

Maybe you’ve heard his big story about health care before. It starts with a lawyer, trying to justify himself before Jesus as a truly righteous guy. The initial exchange goes well, but sadly for the lawyer, he’s undone by his own followup question: "And who is my neighbor?"

Note: Senator Lincoln and Rep. Ross, you and the religious conservatives in Congress might want to set down any beverages you are drinking. This could hit kind of close to home. You have been warned.

The story starts simply: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. . ."

Behold, the patient. We don’t know any more about him — nothing about his job (if any), his family (if any), his reason for being on the road, or his health before he was attacked. He was there, he got beaten, and he was left for dead.

Along comes a priest, who sees him and passes by on the other side of the road, as does a Levite (one of the lay leaders of the Jewish community, with both religious and secular political duties). They saw him, and avoided any kind of interaction. Perhaps the priest did not want to touch him and become ritually unclean. Perhaps the Levite had urgent business down the road. Things to do, important people to see. Perhaps they were afraid of being attacked themselves. We don’t know why, but both these leaders of the community looked away and kept on going. And to the man in the ditch, that’s all that matters. They saw him, and went on by.

But then along comes a Samaritan — an outcast foreigner, with strange religious beliefs that put him beyond the pale of polite society in Jerusalem — and what does he do? He provides emergency care on the scene, takes him to an inn and arranges for his short term care needs, and promised to return and pay more if longer term help is needed. He doesn’t ask to see the man’s proof of citizenship, and he doesn’t inquire as to whether the man can pay him back. He sees a man half dead, and he does what he can to help.

Turning to the lawyer, Jesus asks a simple question: "which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" When the lawyer point to the Samaritan, saying "the one who showed him mercy," Jesus must have smiled. "Go," he said, "and do likewise."

I can see why a parable like this might inspire conservatives to want to rewrite the Bible. There’s no mention of personal responsibility, no mention of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, and no mention of co-pays or limits or deductibles. Where’s the smiting of sinners, for crying out loud? (Unless that’s why the guy got beat up in the first place. What was he doing on that road, anyway? . . .)

Three people saw a man in need. Two leaders in the community passed by without lifting a finger; an outcast steps up and provides care.

Blanche Lincoln, Mike Ross, and Blue Dogs in socially conservative areas: which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man in need? Are you going to join the priest and Levite in passing by the folks in the ditch? Are you going to read your contribution reports more closely than the Bible that so many of your constituents read? Or are you willing to get behind real health care reform, like a robust public option, that will benefit those who have been left half dead in the ditch by insurance companies?

Perhaps it would help if the story started "A man was going down from Little Rock to Pine Bluff . . ."

Then again, maybe not.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.