Just before Christmas, I shared a clip from the Colbert Report on Facebook. You have probably seen it – it is the one where Colbert’s identity as Sunday school teacher basically overcomes his character, and he really lets us have it about what Jesus is all about. Soon after posting it, my friend Scott wrote to me that he had first seen it when his pastor posted it the week before – she had suggested that it would make a great Christmas Eve sermon.
This message led to a great conversation about the Christian obligation to base our loving response upon need and not upon a person’s “deserving” – based in large part upon our understanding that we have received abundantly more than anyone could ever hope to deserve. However, Scott and I were not in agreement about the extent to which government should be a part of that loving response. This does not much trouble me, these days – my overall political philosophy has not changed too much in the past 18 years or so, but my ability to see the other guy’s point has.
Thoughtful Christians who believe that government should certainly have a role in protecting and nurturing “the least, the last, and the lost” may believe (as I do) that to trust individuals to do this without the carrot and stick that government provides is to be naive about the fall – about the inevitability of the job not getting done unless someone makes those with the most power and wealth surrender some of what they have for the have nots. Thoughtful Christians (such as Scott) who believe that caring for all those in need can and should in fact be done without doing it through government may believe that I and my cohort are being naive about the fall – about the inevitability of corruption and graft preventing much good from getting done, and so diverting much needed resources to pork projects, not to mention the money lost to lobbying, and salaries of various undersecretaries of dubious value to the commonweal, and on and on. And it may well be that, in his assertion that “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was conceding both of our points. The fall is pervasive – and we will not be the ones to architect the demise of the “not yet,” and with our “cunning plan” singlehandedly hasten the kingdom’s coming. Alas, we are still – all of us – seeing in a glass dimly.
It has come to be that, for me, the more important measure of how much I am going to be renewed by my time with a person is not whether we voted for the same folks, but whether we worship the same Jesus – who loves us all more than we deserve, and so inspires us to love and care for and act on behalf of others without hesitating merely because “they got themselves into this mess.” We may disagree on the best way to go about serving the poor, the lost, and the lonely, but I hope that we can agree that we are called to serve them – whomever and wherever they are.