Love 53 Percent of Your Neighbors As You Love Yourself

I want to know what kind of Christian Mitt Romney is.

In “leaked” tapes, Romney labeled all Obama voters “victims.” This is not a misinterpretation. That’s what he said and that’s what he meant, no matter how “inelegant” he claims it to have been:

All right, there are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax … I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

As a Catholic school boy, I first heard the story of the Good Samaritan in religion class. It’s the easiest way to teach charity – isn’t it? Unfortunately, its ubiquity renders it almost meaningless. And its simplicity makes it easy to dismiss in the age of cynicism. As an adult, I’ve come to see that there are more layers.

A neighbor gets a helping hand.

A neighbor gets a helping hand.

In Jesus’ parable, the Samaritan is the featured player who bestows charity on the stranger. I was taught, in my parochial school, that Samaritans and Jews did not hold each other in high regard. Since Jesus was a Jew in a Jewish community, it is probably safe to assume that many of his followers were Jews too. We don’t know if the victim of the story was a Jew but the identification of the Samaritan landed a point: even someone you dislike can be kind. The lesson is the difficulty of true charity. Can we be charitable to those we do not like and can those we do not like also show charity?

This parable, which appears only in the Gospel of Luke, is instigated by a situation in which Jesus repeatedly found himself: being challenged on his word.

A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?”

Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?”

The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

“You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.”

But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

And there is the question which predicates the story, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is to pose a question in return. “Yes, who is your neighbor?” Once the parable is done, the summation Jesus delivers truly brings me to tears.

Jesus asked, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?”

The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”

Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”

Wow.

I am no longer a Catholic. I broke with the church long ago, but the teachings of Christ stay with me, as do the words of so many of the great religious figures. Their teachings inspire me to live a proud and honorable life.

Jesus does not ask whether the guy in the road deserved his beating. The guy may have been a lazy slob who sat around on his fat, couch-potato ass guzzling beer all day and living off welfare, sucking up social security and collecting unemployment at the same time, making his mother clean up after him, not contributing to the household and basically being a douchebag. (Watch the fur fly as people tell me that there were no “entitlement programs” in Jesus’ day. If you’re focused on that, you’ve missed the point of Jesus’ story.) In my story, the victim is a type of person I dislike: selfish, dishonorable, unkind, uncharitable. But does he deserve my charity?

Christ does not ask who deserves or does not deserve. He just says, Go and be like the Samaritan.

There is no context for misinterpretation. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And who is my neighbor? Everyone.

The Republican mantra is that the only way to get people to work is to put them into hardship. Let them fend for themselves. We must push them out of the nest built by the U.S. government. But, at this point, I don’t see much of a nest being built. What I see is a den of vipers asking us to fear what we do not know firsthand. I see the moneychangers in the temple. And I see a rich, privileged man trying to get a job as the President of a United States that believes hard work always yields results.

It doesn’t. Ask your local elementary school teacher. Ask any adjunct teacher at a major university. Ask the mail room guy at your office. Ask anyone in the theatre. How lucky Mitt is that he had parents who could help him! I know that sounds like I am being snide but I am not; if my parents could have helped me more, they certainly would have. As it stands, they did what they could with what they had. Mitt’s parents had more. Good for them and for Mitt.

Not everyone who needs help is as bad off as the victim in the Good Samaritan story nor is everyone receiving government assistance a lazy moocher. But Mitt Romney has painted a segment of society with a broad brush: everyone who votes for Obama is a baby bird who would rather eat Romney’s regurgitated spoils than fly the coop. Does he really believe, like Herman Cain, “If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself?” Is money the gauge by which we judge your value in a society and, more to the point, your work ethic? If that were the case, my mother, who worked two jobs through most of my childhood, apparently didn’t work hard enough because I don’t have a trust fund.

When Ebenezer Scrooge is approached at his office for a charitable, holiday donation, he turns away the two “portly gentlemen” with a chilling response.

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Scrooge meets ignorance and want.

Scrooge meets ignorance and want.

Never say never, I suppose, and you can call me a skeptic, but I don’t think Romney will be visited by three ghosts before the election to instill the values of Christianity into his heart.

Right now, the struggling of this nation are like the victim on the road. They – we– are suffering the effects of a ravaged economy. Five years after the second greatest economic disaster in the history of this nation, there are still people out of work. There are still people who have lost and are losing their homes, have lost their retirement funds, have lost their jobs and are struggling to get by. Their unemployment ran out a long time ago. And there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. (Oh, yes, the Comment Threaders and the Facebookers will cry foul on Obama for his inability to get the country in order, forgetting that the U.S. did not recover from The Great Depression until we entered into WWII some 12 years later.)

Giving back to the society that helped you earn your billions doesn’t mean you are being punished. Being charitable doesn’t mean giving everything away all the time. I theoretically understand the Republican mantra: you don’t want a population dependent on the government. Putting aside Social Security, unemployment and Medicare for a moment because I’m simply not sure if Romney includes them in his assertions of victimhood, claiming that all Obama voters are victims is illogical, insulting and inappropriate. It’s worse than “inelegant,” it’s stupid.

Yes, there are times when we need to be pushed out of the nest. But I want to know, Mr. Romney, if you understand that there are people in this nation who need help, who don’t have trust funds, who cannot borrow from their parents to pay for school or start a business. And that there are legitimate victims still suffering the losses of ’08.

When a woman came to Jesus to anoint him with an expensive perfume, his disciples said it was wasteful and the expensive perfume could have been sold to give money to the poor. Jesus replied, “You will always have the poor.”

I don’t think Jesus intended for us to villainize them.

Tom Gualtieri

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri (@TomGGualtieri)is a theatre artist with his hand in many disciplines: lyricist, playwright, performer, director, knitter. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. His solo play, That Play: A Solo Macbeth, was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award.
This entry was posted in Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *