Here's another article which might be useful to church or parish magazine editors. Feel free to use it, provided you attribute it and put at the end "From the Ugley Vicar blog".
In a shocking exposure of our current social failings, a recent inquiry has suggested that the neglect of the elderly in some English home care provision amounts to a breach of their human rights.
Yet although some of the reported abuses were indeed dreadful and although people certainly ought to receive humane treatment, nevertheless I would suggest that from a Christian point of view the human rights approach to this particular problem is fundamentally wrong.
One of Jesus’ most famous parables concerned the ‘good Samaritan’. The story tells of a man attacked by thieves and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. When a Jewish priest came that way, rather than stop to help, he passed by on the opposite side. Similarly, an assistant priest did the same thing. But then a Samaritan found the man, stopped to help, bandaged his wounds and took the man to an inn, where he paid for his care.
The twist in this ‘tale of the unexpected’ is that at the time Jews and Samaritans hated one another. The idea of a ‘good’ Samaritan was unthinkable to Jesus’ audience!
Jesus told the story, however, in answer to a question put to him by an expert in Jewish law: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus’ reply was an affirmation of the two fundamental principles of the Law of Moses: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
“Do this,” Jesus said, “And you will live.”
But Jesus was talking to a lawyer! So his next question to Jesus was this: “Who is my neighbour?”
Armed with a definition of ‘neighbour’, he would know where his obligations lay under the law and whom, therefore, he had to love ‘as himself’.
But that is where the parable is relevant to our care of the elderly. When we look at an elderly person in need, should our first question be, in effect, “Is this person my neighbour?” The trouble with a ‘human rights’ approach is that how they are treated will ultimately be governed by their legally-defined entitlement.
The parable of the good Samaritan, however, reverses the question, for it didn’t just end with the example of a ‘villain’ turning out to be the ‘good guy’. The lawyer had asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus asked him, “Who do you think was a neighbour to the man who was robbed?”
In other words, it is the attitude of the person giving the love, not the status of the person receiving it, that really counts.
We ought not to have to say to care workers — or to anyone else — “Here is someone who has legal rights which oblige you to treat them in a certain way.” That is the lawyer’s approach, seeking to define “Who is my neighbour?”
Rather, our question should be, “Am I acting as neighbour to this person in need?” How they are treated should depend not on them and their having sufficient ‘rights’, but on us and on our understanding of our love for God and for them.
Jesus finally asked the lawyer to define who was the neighbour to the injured man and the lawyer grudgingly answered, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Surely we need no further instructions?
John RichardsonPlease give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:
November 25, 2011
November 25, 2011