Anne Lindley — The Good Samaritan and the Social Safety Net

The Good Samaritan, Rembrandt (1630)

I invited a few friends to respond to this week’s #PatheosElection question: What are the key issues for people of your tradition to consider as they approach this election?

Here’s the answer from Anne Lindley, a public librarian in Connecticut who worships with the Quakers and writes about spirituality and creativity at

As a Christian, I believe Jesus was not kidding when He said “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus talks about offering meat and drink, providing clothes, helping the sick. How about us? What should we do for our sisters and brothers? What kind of a social safety net should we try to provide in our country? This election gives Christians the chance to show what we believe Jesus meant.

When detractors of our current social safety net slam it as a system that encourages dependency, “personal responsibility” is their watchword. They don’t want to “reward failure” or “shield people from the consequences of their bad decisions.” I accept that many people who talk this way have good intentions. But I don’t think Jesus would back them up on this one.

I think the social safety net Jesus endorses is in the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan did not know anything about the man whom he found naked and beaten on the road. He didn’t know whether he had been injured in a robbery or in a drug deal gone bad. He didn’t know whether the victim paid income tax or not. He didn’t ask him whether he was one of the 47 percent who feel “entitled” to health care at no cost. The Good Samaritan believed this man, injured and penniless, deserved health care because he was a human being. Jesus told his disciples to follow that example.

When I need help, when I am down on my luck, I dearly hope to be given a helping hand, even if (especially if) my own boneheaded mistake got me there. I would be grateful for a sandwich to tide me over to another day when I can pick myself up and sort myself out. That is how I want to be treated, that is how I would treat someone I love, and that is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. I choose the social safety net of the Good Samaritan, who went out of his way to help a person about whom he knew nothing — except that he needed help. That is the kind of society we should be working towards, if we take Jesus seriously.

– Anne Lindley


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About Phil Fox Rose

Phil Fox Rose is a writer, editor and content lead based in New York. He is coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of New York, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Raised atheist by ex-Mormons, Phil has journeyed through Quakerism, deep ecology, Buddhism and Catholicism. Now he's a congregant, worship leader, cook and chair of the leadership team at St. Lydia's, an awesome dinner church in Brooklyn, NY, and spends as much time in nature as possible. Phil has been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil by RSS feed, email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • Kelli

    yes. Why in the world would you throw out an entire teaching because SOME people don’t include the unborn as among the “least of these”? I am prolife, but that is about the only thing I share with Republicans. I just hope you don’t use this one issue to totally disregard the entire argument above.

  • Shaun

    Are you concerned about the unborn outside of America? How about innocent unborn Iraqis who subjected to the toxic effects of American munitions? Who, when born, have serious birth defects that can be directly traced to the lead found in American munitions? Or how about the unborn (and born) Pakistanis who are under constant threat of injury and death due to our drone policy (they are written off as collateral damage by our government). If you are only adamant about the value and dignity of the American unborn, then you sound just as disingenuous.

  • Shaun

    I apologize for the grammatical/spelling errors.

  • Melanie

    So you care about the unborn as the least of the least… What about when that fetus is born and needs assistance? Right now those children are mostly ignored because once born, the child is considered worthless. They can’t pay taxes , vote or die in war for another 18 years.
    Caring about this one issue above all others doesn’t make you a better person either.
    Instead of saying you are pro-life or against abortion and suggesting that anyone who is NOT pro-life is evil- Stand up and make the option less needed. Make a difference with your actions in a positive way instead of degrading those women in words. Most women who seek an abortion are in some form of crisis. Either emotional, physical or financial. They need help, not negative judgement by so-called righteous Christians.

    • Angi

      Melanie is spot on!

  • SayBlade

    I am pro-life…
    I am pro-life. I support the rights of the already born. I support sex education at early stages of life because an educated child makes more responsible decisions about engaging in sex and having relationships. I support free birth control methods. It is a responsible decision for men and women to use it when engaging in sex. I support a woman’s right to control her own body. She will decide when it is appropriate to engage in sex. Men already do this. What all this does is substantially reduce the number of women who need to seek abortions which is well on the way to achieving the goal of the pro-life movement, that is to eliminate abortion.
    I am pro-life so I am against the death penalty. It serves no useful purpose except empty revenge for the bereaved.
    I am pro-life so I am for universal health care and the social safety nets we extend to the people of our country in need through the tool of our government.
    I am pro-life so I stand against sending our country’s sons and daughters into expensive and pointless wars that exert control over freedoms in other countries.

  • squirlgirl

    I agree with Anne Lindley on the premise that Jesus demonstrated love and compassion to all, and that He said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” If we want a society that puts these values into practice, then we want a society that follows Jesus. But America has un-invited Him from virtually every public discussion by the flawed interpretation of the doctrine of ‘separation of church and state.’ I do all I can to help those in need – both in person and through donation to charitable organizations – and it is my opinion that Jesus was speaking to each individual, not to governments.
    Let’s also show some of the same compassion in every word we speak to those who disagree with us over religion, politics, morality, or any other controversial subject. I would ask the same in return.

  • Marie

    I agree with squirlgirl. Individually, as Christians, we should help those in need no questions asked. These are government programs we are talking about. The government is supposed to protect ALL it’s citizens, this includes the protecting us from abusers. There are individuals who enter these programs for a hand up, but there are also those who use it as a handout. When one sees another in the grocery store, dressed to the nines in current designer clothing, rings on their fingers while talking on their state of the art cell phone paying for food with an gov. assistance debit card, then load those groceries into a new car, it gets frustrating. Yes, I have seen this personally, it is not a caricature.

    These government assistance programs are needed. They are needed now more than ever with this awful economy. Yet, it is the job of our government to keep it’s abuse to a minimum. This is what we cry out for, not a cessation of help.