Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and mind —and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
-- Luke 10:25-29 (The Message)
The religion scholar was looking for a loophole. Religion scholars are often accused of looking for loopholes. Preachers too. I've been accused of it my fair share.
One of our candidates for presidency seems to be pretty good at looking for loopholes. And is apparently pretty good at finding them - financially. He appears very proud of himself for not paying his fair share.
On the one hand, why would be blame him? Even regular Christians look for loopholes, don’t we? We want to pay our taxes - okay, unlike the candidate there -- we do want to pay our taxes. But like the candidate, most of us want to pay at the lowest possible rate. That candidate isn’t all that different from large corporations that find loopholes by exploiting cheap labor. Those corporations aren’t all that different from people like you and me who are the wealthy beneficiaries of that cheap labor. I’ll give you but one example.
A Washington Post article last Friday traced the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to companies such as Apple and Samsung. The mention of those two companies alone is enough to put fear in our hearts because we all know what Apple and Samsung make. Electronics. Electronics that we need - or at least crave.
The miners dig for Cobalt. Cobalt is an essential ingredient in Lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries make it possible for your cell phone to fit in your pocket, your laptop to fit in your lap, and your electric car to fit in your driveway. Some who dig for cobalt in these dangerous mines are children. All of them are subject to dying in the mines and who knows what other health issues will arise as they age. If they age.
Miners work all day in these mines for $2 or $3 -- a day. Their families have to make choices between buying flour or salt. The conditions are dangerous. There is no regulation. We are the beneficiaries of their labor.
Why does Trump look for loopholes, and why do corporations look for loopholes, and why do we look for loopholes? Pretty much all for the same reason. To justify our way of life.
Really to have our own “stuff.” We like our stuff, our gadgets, our toys, our electronics. So we ask, What is the least I can do for the most benefit for myself? We often do this without thought to what others are sacrificing, and how others are broken, in order for us to have what we want. We look for loopholes to have our own way rather than the way of Jesus.
This selfish use of our passion, our prayer, our muscle, and our mind would be just fine for us Christians if Christ had been a capitalist. But if this story of the Samaritan is any indication of the ways and teachings of Jesus, and it is, then rather than a capitalistic Christ, we follow a compassionate and Cosmic Christ.
Let me define those two terms. A compassionate Christ is a Christ who suffers with the least of these AND transforms the exploitation of the least of these into justice, which is to say, into right relationship.
And Cosmic Christ means a Christ who is concerned for ALL of these - not just Americans or Christians, or only people. A Cosmic Christ is a Christ that is also concerned about the conditions of the planet and the universe because those conditions are the conditions under which people live and are thereby directly related to their well-being, or “salvation” if you want to use a bible word.
The well-being of a miner in Congo is as important to the Cosmic Christ as the one running for president of the United States. In fact, to the Christ, the miner is more important because the miner is lesser on our scale.
Following a compassionate and Cosmic Christ calls us to stop looking for loopholes that allow us to gain our own way while exploiting the least of these. That's the problem with using loopholes, it isn't there is no cost, only that someone else pays that cost.
Rather than what is the least I can do to benefit me the most, Christ- thinking is what is the most I can do to benefit the least of these? This kind of thinking says, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill —I’ll pay you on my way back.’ And this kind of thinking returns to make good on the promise.
Surely, the Samaritan could have found a loophole. But he didn't. Rather than putting his own burden on others, the Samaritan pays his fair share, and another's fair share as well.
We can use our money to get our own way. We can use it to exploit others. But we can’t call ourselves followers of the way of Jesus Christ when we do that.
Loophole was originally a means of defense. It became an escape from responsibility for one’s actions. The word comes from the 13th century and does indeed translate very well the original Greek - δικαιόω - to justify oneself. Why does the religious man seek to justify himself? Because he knows he’s wrong.
Notice though, the story doesn’t end with the religious scholar being hopeless. Go and do the same Jesus says. I like to believe he did. There was still hope for him. There is still hope for us as well.
Frankl, Todd, "The cobalt pipeline: tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to
consumers’ phones and laptops," September 30, 2016, The Washington Post.
Photos by Michael Robinson Chavezdeo editing by Jorge Ribas