Jesus, the Chief Justice, and Justice: A Christian View of Obamacare
I will confess to you that I am distressed by this command: "You give them something to eat." Why can't they get their own food? Why can't they make their own money? Why can't I be left alone, in peace and relative prosperity?
Why does Jesus ask me to do things I don't really want to do?
I want a faith that requires of me only that I be a generally nice person who feels sympathetic toward those who have real needs.
I want a faith identified by my identification; I'm a Christian, see?
I want a faith that doesn't cost me anything.
I want a faith that preserves my freedom, my money, my autonomy, my privacy.
But that's not what Jesus asks of us; Jesus asks us for all we have, and all we are.
(Or, in other words, Jesus asks us to recognize that God has given us all we have, and to recognize that too, so that we don't think of anything as purely ours.)
In his piece for Forbes, I think Charles Kadlec badly misunderstood President Obama's reference to the military as exemplary citizens in his State of the Union Address:
The President was asking the American people to imagine themselves not as individuals in a free society, but as members of a military organization selflessly following the orders of their superior officers no matter the personal cost up through the chain of command to the President as Commander in Chief.
As I recall the address, President Obama was doing no such thing. The military was used as a metaphor to invite Mr. Obama's listeners to imagine what a society might look like if it was founded not on an absolute concern for our own freedoms, but on concern for everyone, how we might envision a society that understood shared sacrifice as a prerequisite for our success as a nation.
I asked in Faithful Citizenship,
What does it cost us to live out our faith? It should, if we understand it rightly, cost us everything. That, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer—the German pastor and theologian who was executed for plotting against Hitler—is always the cost of discipleship. Unlike the faith condemned by William Law as worship or personal holiness that doesn't transform our lives, the Rev. Bonhoeffer challenges us to embrace what he calls "costly grace," grace that requires our absolute obedience to the call of Christ. "Such grace is costly," he says, "because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 45)
True Christianity—as Mr. Bonhoeffer's own example demonstrates—is not a Sunday morning visit to a pew. It's a reorientation of our entire lives in the direction of God. When Jesus bids a follower to take up his or her cross and follow, it is about a way of life—and death—for every faithful Christian. We live to God, and we die to the things of the world—the same dichotomy that is becoming familiar from Augustine's City of God.
The last thing some of us want to hear is that being a faithful Christian is going to cost us something—part of our lives, part of our treasure, part of our freedom.
And yet, that's exactly what it does. Faithful citizenship requires, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said on the last night of his life, a "dangerous unselfishness."
It requires that we be our brothers'—and sisters'—keepers, however much we might wish it didn't.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.