Finding our Place as Neighbours: Taxation and Mercy this Christmas

So,” said Jesus, summing up His parable in response to the lawyer’s enquiry, which of these three, do you think, have acted to become neighbour to the man who fell among the thieves in that dangerous place?” And the lawyer, who had initially come forth to put Him to the test, having been put right not only with respect to true religion but with how law directed those under the law to see themselves as neighbour, had no option but to reply, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I suspect that we have the story of the Merciful Samaritan in our Bibles because Luke collected this parable from a former wise-guy lawyer who actually was converted despite his presumptuous attempt to take Jesus down a peg or two. Instead, he actually found himself put on the path of righteousness by a merciful act of story-telling that winsomely turned this fellow’s life around. And so ever since Luke penned it, the world has been inspired to not just care for the neighbour, but to be neighbour.

So, here we are confronted with the merciless decree that an elderly woman of an Indian family from Singapore, who has lived in this country for years to be with her family, now faces deportation – why? Well let’s just cut through the official bureaucratic rationale and media speculation and simply say that the reported decree from the Government department – that if she remains she will be a “cost” to the community – shows a very serious deficit, in short a bankruptcy in open-hearted mercy. It must challenge any Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Those who insist upon an exclusion of religion from public life and the administration of public justice, and who, by doing so, continually aid and abet the alleged “secularisation” of the public square, need to ask themselves whether their “enlightened” ban serves to immunise our politics from the challenge of Jesus’ parable. We’ve all heard about the so-called protestant ethic and how it was supposed to provide a moral justification for capitalism. I’d suggest that there’s another sociological hypothesis that would repay serious scholarly examination. It is this: the secularising ethic and the rise of xenophobic “hospitality”.  

Consider the outrageous conduct of both sides” of our Federal Parliament – the hairy-chested Liberal Coalition and cowardly Labor Opposition with respect to the asylum seekers housed on Nauru and Manus Island. They are wanting to send these Samaritans” to the United States, which has just seen itself endorse a President-elect who prides himself in having demanded a wall be built between his country and Mexico, while also demanding a halt to all immigration of Muslim people!

Nurturing Justice is not in the business of making a call to halt all the good-will and the widespread public show of neighbourliness that continues as part of this Christmas season, despite the many superficial and persistent distractions that seem to grow more intense and stupid every year. We lament the fact that the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, is thoroughly compromised by the eight weeks of commercialised madness that we are currently enduring. But it should also be said that Christmas is just as completely compromised, if not moreso, by the willingness of our government to increase the deficit of mercy in the administration of this polity’s public life.

The story of Jesus’ birth, also comes to us as the story of God’s providential care of an asylum-seeking family. And we cannot truly have Jesus’ birthday celebration” without having the full story. And we can’t actually have the full story unless we are willing to be a living person who is actually living to become a part of the story. Jesus’ word to us compels our repentance:

On your way and do likewise.

Christmas is all about how God, in Jesus Christ, shows us how to become neighbour, and therefore fulfil the law. Our task is none other than to become neighbour, not to engage or remain complicit (walking by on the other side) in merciless action that effectively crucifies Him again.

stop-the-donkeys-cover

This poster appeared in 2013 as a Christmas protest against the Australian Government’s persistent vilification of asylum seekers, mainly from the middle east and Sri Lanka, who had been duped into taking passage in illegal and ill-fitted boats by the prospect of landing on our northern and north western coast.

There is a world-wide clamour for strong leadership” and no doubt this has also been fuelled by political demands and incessant Government claims that legislated stringencies – usually having an impact through taxation – are a doctrine of necessity”. The national budget deficit has to be reduced. It is true, the world continues to suffer from an ongoing and unremitting “global financial crisis” and now that banking is a form of gambling-financial management for all at all levels, public and private, we do not advance one inch by a casuistry that reduces economics to ethical concern. But then the moral of the Parable of the Merciful Samaritan may well have been given to us so that we might get a better understanding of what taxation should be.

To conclude, I commend an insightful book by Alan Storkey, over a decade old but still fresh and new in its analysis, Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers (Baker 2005). This book is worth every cent.This excerpt may even help us turn our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ around as a way to confirm our task as those seeking public justice for all:

The Good Samaritan and Health Provision.

So much has the West absorbed of Christian culture that it often cannot see its dependency on Christian principles. Modern taxes, for example, are often for us. They fund health, education, welfare services, and other compassionate provisions. To those who have lived with colonial extortion and self-serving state taxes, this kind of focus for taxation is a revolution. Yet this is the revolution that we in the West have been through, to some extent. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a paradigm for the meaning of taxation (Luke 10:25-37). Three people come by: a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The first two are from the taxing classes, but they do not care. The Samaritan cares for the victim , takes him to an inn, and funds his recovery. “Who acts as neighbour to the mugged man?” Jesus asks in an unavoidable way. When the answer comes he says, “Go and do likewise.” It remains our inescapable duty.

Taxation can be an expression of the nation’s system of care and neighbourly love. Through taxes, we are true neighbours to our neighbours. Here Jesus, in speaking with the expert in the law, lays out the motive that can drive a positive view of taxation. it can be an expression of love, not just a process of state imposition. Now, through our choice of governments, paying taxes is largely a democratic voluntary act. In 2001, the British electorate voted parties proposing higher taxation; previous they had done the opposite. Jesus’ appeal in the parable of the Good Samaritan is to obey God’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves: “Go and do likewise” establishes the principle of providing for the sick and injured, meeting their needs.

This parable has been a signpost down through history. The Benedictines and other caring orders, the early provision of charitable hospitals, monastic infirmaries, care of lepers and the insane, medical schools, midwifery, the nursing profession, and other areas – all of these are Christianly shaped. In London, medieval Christian hospital foundations like St. Thomas’s and St. Bart’s shaped sickness provisions. During the eighteenth century foundations motivated by the evangelical awakening sprang up. Westminster Hospital was explicitly founded on the teaching of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Thomas Guy of Guy’s was a devout Baptist, and the London hospital was similarly inspired. Charitable provision generated more than one new hospital or dispensary a year between 1700 and 1825. Nursing, associated with Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell, had strong Christian inspiration. The Christian Medical Movement went with and as missionaries to plant embryonic hospitals worldwide.

This welfare movement has shaped Western medical culture and been incorporated into the normal taxation processes of Britain and other countries. Even where health provision is done through individual insurance, other forms of welfare and communal provision provide the main meaning of the taxation system. This great parable acts as a signpost for societal organisation. Indeed it could be said that a nation is defined as a unit where a decent level of neighbourly care is reflected in the political structures. Here, therefore, is a positive communal sense of provision through taxation.

Consider, the manner in which Australian citizens, defending their vision of an hospitable country by defending the rights of those asylum seekers housed on Nauru and Manus island, have been vilified by the very politicians whose public service is funded by their taxation. When they, with populist greeting, join in the chorus of “Seasons Greetings” and piously tender their own, are we not entitled to ignore their piety and instead find ways in which we “go and do likewise”?

BCW

4.12.16

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