As the federal government could not reach a budget by the deadline this fall, the government has shut down and employees of our great nation are furloughed. No work, no pay. Millions of citizens in America who are dependent on government programs for basic needs are suffering now, and fearful of the future. This is a travesty of justice, an outrage. It is so disappointing. It is frightening to watch this occur in our country.
The travesty, outrage, disappointment and fear that some of these people feel is because the rest of us have neglected or forgotten our responsibility to care for the needy. Jesus commanded us, “Clothe the naked, give food to the hungry, and welcome a stranger.” He did not promote food stamps or housing projects.
In John 21:17 Jesus says, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
No where does Jesus say, “Protest outside Cesar’s gate and demand that he provide for the widows and the orphans.”
Rather, Jesus showed us the example to follow. Jesus healed the sick; he didn’t insist on free health care. He wanted us to provide caring and healing. He didn’t ask nurses, physicians assistants or doctors to work without pay. He asked us to share what we have.
There is only one occasion (described in Mark 14:5, John 12:5 and Matthew 26:9) where Jesus prioritizes any other directive than to feed the poor. Before his death, Mary, a sinner, put an alabaster jar of very costly ointment on Jesus’ head and dried them with her hair. His disciples challenged Him and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a larger sum and the money given to the poor.”
Jesus (as usual), replied out of the box with “Why do you trouble this woman?…The poor will always be with you..but you will not always have me…she has prepared me for burial”
Indeed, if she had sold the ointment to feed the poor the ointment would have gone to a rich person, not our Savior. Were this sinner’s priorities correct? Shortly there after, Jesus died for us. Governments, people in power and the wealthy do not and will not make this ultimate sacrifice.
The Bible instructs us to pay our taxes, respect authority and follow the rules. Jesus said, “Give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and…” Government is not a bad thing according to this passage. It is a necessary institution in our society.
Cesar had a job to do but he didn’t always do this. He lived in comfort and luxury while exploiting the poor, and treating other human beings as slaves. Powerful leaders all over the world have lived in luxury and created a radical difference between the rich and the poor. This does not change our obligation to care for the needy. Just because Congress is shutting down by not agreeing on the budget, we must agree to take action rather than close our doors and our wallets. Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you.” He did not say, “love one another as Cesar has loved you.”
Pope Francis follows Jesus’ example. Before his papal inauguration, he told the world not to spend money and visit Rome at the historic moment in Catholic history. He asked instead that we take our travel budgets and spend it on the poor. Shouldn’t we also follow our Holy Father’s example?
Now is a pivotal time for us to link Jesus’ teaching of, “Love one another,” together with “We the people of the United States of America…”