Jesus’ mandate for bigger government

The temporarily ascendant Religious Left has been more imaginative than the U.S. Supreme Court in finding rights and mandates in their primary documents. For our more liberal brothers, that document is nominally the Bible. While many Americans found it shocking when vice presidential candidate Joe Biden called voting for higher taxes a patriotic duty last year, the rhetoric within evangelical circles has only gone further out since then.

Look at some of the passages frequently abused in these discussions. Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus’ teaching about the judgment wherein he commends and condemns the sheep and the goats, respectively, is a tempting one for those who believe the gospel is mostly social. Here, in this eschatological passage, Jesus judges according to the only thing for which we will be eternally judged, belief in him. The “least of these” actions refer to good works that flow (or don’t flow, in the case of the goats) from a supernaturally transformed heart. He is not granting or denying access to eternal life based on good works alone.

The feeding of the multitudes in Mark 8, Matthew 15, Luke 9, and John 6 presents a different lesson. Here Jesus works a sign that authenticates his message and his claim to be the Messiah, God himself. Yes, he did feed the people but he did not need to come to earth to do that. I don’t believe that full bellies were the point of this wonder. Alleviating the crowd’s hunger served his greater point. And yet American Baptist theologian Larry Greenfield claims that providing food was exactly the main point of this narrative. He says this on the way to making the claim that Jesus’ compassion on the hungry crowd implies that we must support the mandatory redistribution of wealth in America so that everyone has health insurance. This seems a bit of a reach.

Consider Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Because the merciful traveler dressed the wounds of the injured man and gave the innkeeper money for his continued care, some also see the 2009 Democrat Party platform in Jesus’ command to “go and do likewise.” Oliver Thomas, formerly of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, is quoted in USA Today as saying this parable is “about health care,” so universal health care becomes a moral imperative. And of course, those of us who don’t see it must be compelled through taxation to support all aspects of the scheme. Perhaps Jesus could have made his point more effectively if the Samaritan had chased down the heartless Levite that passed by on the other side and forced him at spear point to provide for the wounded traveler. If Jesus was saying what Mr. Thomas and others believe, such an action would have made his point about loving our neighbors more clearly. The fact that such a scenario seems absurd to our minds suggests that it is incompatible with Jesus’ lesson.

Notice that each of these interpretations fixes Scripture to a narrow agenda. That agenda is temporal and actually difficult to apply to Christians of all times and places. In some contexts these lessons imply that Christians should lead a Marxist overthrow of their heartless government. In other contexts, it takes the focus off what I should do when confronted with another man’s need and places it on what some millionaire should be forced to do in my name. By choosing to make the gospel a tract for the redistribution of wealth, we diminish its life-changing power.

Using the gospel to support a merely humanist agenda also removes personal responsibility and reward from our good works. In reality, as our total taxation rate approaches or surpasses 50 percent, our compassionate response to the needs around us will not diminish?our resources to respond will diminish, though. Will even the best governmental system on earth (ours) really do a better job of caring for the needy than the hundreds of not-for-profit organizations? Will this system be more efficient and flexible than they? When Jesus said that we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, he did not mean that we should desire to entrust all our benevolent works to the state. Perhaps it is beside the point but it is also ironic to hear many redistributionist politicians and celebrities who give a paltry amount to charitable causes drone on about the need for others to pay higher taxes, though only so long as the opinion makers like the man in office.

Those who reframe the gospel to support what they consider to be a fine political agenda regarding health insurance play a dangerous game with the Word of God. If Jesus’ message is more about extended physical life than about eternal spiritual life we’ve traded something breathtaking for a band-aid. Even if we remove compassion for the poor from its biblical context, it does not naturally translate into a God-given right to utilize every technological capability of man for the extension of our days or for our temporary comfort. We are all too fixated on those two things to begin with.

If Jesus does not return in the

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