Dr. Anne M. Cameron
March 6, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
Fourth in a Series on Christian Justice
One cloudy day, deep in the gloom of the economic downtown, Jesus was approached by Rich Fuller, a top executive in charge of health care benefits at a Fortune 500 company. Fuller was an expert in all things related to insurance, staffing, and budget. He knew his stuff. He was also a Christian, devout in his faith and active in his church. Fuller had a question for Jesus, a question which haunted him from time to time. Fuller wasn't going to miss this chance to ask one burning question. "Lord Christ, what must I do to have eternal life? Really, Jesus, what is required?"
Recognizing Fuller's agenda might be bigger than his question, Jesus replied with a question of his own. "What does scripture say? You're pretty smart; how do you interpret it?"
Fuller whipped off his reply: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
"Right-O!" Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." Jesus starting walking away, ready to move on to his next appointment.
"Hold on, please, for a moment, your Lordship!" Fuller found himself stammering.
"I need a little more clarification, Lord. I mean, that's a pretty broad statement. I get the part about loving God with heart, soul, strength and mind, but I need some boundaries here about who exactly is my neighbor and who isn't."
"You sure you have time for this?"
"Absolutely, Lord, of course. I'll get my secretary to stop my calls and clear my morning calendar. Josie, can you come in here a second?"
"Yes, Mr. Fuller?"
"I want no interruptions. This is a life and death conversation, and I want to hear every word."
"Yes, sir. Remember, you have an 11:00 a.m. telephone conference with Senator Harkin."
"I know, I know, that may have to be postponed."
"Er, okay, yes sir! I will handle it."
"Thank you, Josie."
"Now where were we, Jesus? May I call you Jesus?"
"I am who I am."
Jesus gazed across Rich Fuller's enormous mahogany desk, with both love and sadness in his eyes, and he began to tell a story.
“A man was heading south from downtown Dallas when his car broke down. He had no money, so he began to walk. It was after dark. He had to go through an area frequented by prostitutes, gangs, and addicts. As fate would have it, this man was attacked by a gang who stripped him of what little he had and beat him unconscious. A wealthy and learned Christian passed by. When he saw the man, he quickly crossed over to the opposite side of the street. A neighborhood pastor happened to see the whole thing from his living room window. He pulled his drapes shut and double locked the door.
Just then a Muslim drove by; he noticed the near-dead body and he stopped. He had pity. He called 911; they refused to come without a guarantee of payment, so the Muslim offered to pay the $250 fee. While waiting, he got out his first aid kit and bandaged him as best he could. The ambulance took them to a nearby hospital. The admitting desk had no way to verify this man's health insurance, so they packed them off to Parkland. The Muslim waited several hours in the ER with the man, soothing him and holding his hand. He had to practically move heaven and earth to get some treatment for him, but finally they treated him and put him into a room. The Muslim left his contact information and signed to vouch for the as-yet-unknown victim, promising to return in two days to check up on him.”
Jesus turned to Rich and said, "Which of these three was a neighbor to the one who was attacked by thugs?"
"The Mu---the Mu--- the one who showed mercy."
"Go then, and do the same." And Jesus was gone.
Fuller found himself scratching his head, not quite believing he'd had the encounter he'd had, not quite sure he understood much at all about what it meant for him.
Jesus then went on to visit Hope Methodist, his second appointment of the day. Jesus was going to meet with the church board. The leaders of the church were struggling with questions about pay raises and benefits for all the church employees. Like many churches, this church had two classes of employees: the professional staff and the support staff. The pay differences were great, and the benefit packages were different. The support staff had no health insurance.
I now leave Jesus' story to comment on our situation. Nearly all of you over 65 already receive government health care. Many others of you work full time; some of you work two jobs, with no health insurance. Others of you rely upon your spouse's employer for health insurance. When your spouse can no longer work, you and your entire family will have no health insurance. You know how fragile this all is.
Our church has 28 employees. Three receive government health care. Two have insurance through their spouse. Seventeen have no health insurance whatsoever. Sixteen of these draw salaries at or below the poverty line. Only four of the church's 28 employees receive health care benefits at least partly funded by the church.
Back to Jesus' visit at Hope.
The pastor positively beamed as he welcomed Jesus to the meeting. "As you all know, today we have a guest who needs absolutely no introduction. Lord Christ, we are so humbled and so amazed that you are with us right here in this very room, where we continually seek to do your will for the good of God's people."
Jesus only nodded in response.
The pastor continued. "Lord, we are struggling. We are a big church, and we have even bigger bills. We are trying to cut corners and we are wondering what you think about our budget. Here it is, right here. We are open to your advice. In fact, we've been praying for it."
Jesus gave the papers before him a brief glance and He began to speak. (The Board looked on in awe. Obviously Jesus could absorb the complexities of the financial statement quickly---he is God, after all.)
“I once knew a wealthy church in New England. Even so, this church struggled to pay the bills. In an effort to keep costs under control, for a few years in a row, none of the staff were given raises. Some were disgruntled. They did not feel appreciated. These staff went home to discuss it with their families and to plan their next vacation to “get away from the stress” of church work.
Other staff had a different reaction. They went home to their families and wept. With the soaring cost of groceries, they weren't sure how they were going to afford enough food. They prayed they and their children would not get sick. With no health insurance, they couldn't afford preventative care. They couldn't afford to take their children to a doctor when they were sick. Any serious illness could send them under and make them lose their home. And when you lose your home, your job is soon to follow.”
Jesus then turned to the people in the room. "Which group of employees were treated with mercy?"
The pastor was red faced and silent. The entire room was silent. One of the elders finally spoke up, "Well, Lord, the professional staff."
"Which group of workers were denied what they needed?"
"The support staff, my Lord."
To which the Lord replied, “As for your budget, that is really not my area. I am terrible with numbers. I avoid them as much as possible. I once knew a guy who sold a whole field in exchange for one pearl--- I thought it was a great idea! I've been known to pay a full days' wage for only a few hours' work. I give away grace for free. No, I am definitely not a numbers person.
Remember, whatever you decide, what you do for the least of these, you do for me.”