How can our annual celebration of Christ’s humble birth not jolt us from our year-long exercise in complex self-justification?
Jesus, Christians agree, was the one perfect man. His perfection manifested itself not in the accumulation of riches, but in poverty. His generosity was complete and unconstrained by judgment.
He was the one man with a right to judge, yet his gifts of food and healing and salvation had no conditions attached. He gave to the undeserving based not on their merit, but based on their need.
This man whose perfection we proclaim felt the hunger of the poor, and he fed them. He felt the pain of the sick, and he healed them. He felt the hardness of our souls, and he saved us.
Two thousand years later, we chafe at this man’s simplistic gospel.
His response to hunger was to provide food. Ours is to weave intricate masterpieces of logic: The seeming generosity in paying $1.40 per meal to feed the hungry will really doom them to perpetual hunger. We harm the hungry by giving them sustenance, because our gifts will make them dependent.
When this perfect man confronted illness, his naive response was to offer healing. We come up with elaborate justifications for withholding health care: If all who are sick have access to a cure, our health-care facilities will be overburdened. The cost of healing the impoverished sick will harm the productive potential of the rich, which ultimately will hurt the poor. Universal health care will incentivize unhealthy lifestyles.
We have become enamored of our intellect. With ever-more-elaborate twists of logic, we can prove that food stamps cause hunger and health care causes illness.
And yet on Dec. 25, most of us bow to a man who rejected such logical games. If we were hungry, he gave us food. If we were sick, he healed us. His perfection was simple, but inconvenient. Our imperfection is complex, but convenient.
If we want to pick holes in the Affordable Care Act, we can do so. It is a creation of imperfect humans. If we want to find justifications for whittling away at food stamps and dropping benefits for those who cannot find a job, we can do so.
In the midst of our efforts to construct logical self-justifications for abandoning the poor, however, should we not be jolted each Christmas? Most of us worship a perfect man — the son of a forgiving God — who was both poor and selfless. For him, there was no complexity in goodness. Not one of us deserved his mercy, yet he fed us and healed us and died for us.
Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. As imperfect as we are, we have the power to do both. It’s not convenient, but it’s simple.