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Love and Mercy Have No Limits:
What would Jesus have me do in the life and death of Terri Schiavo

by John Warrener


It has now been two weeks since our nation faced the horrifying reality of a court enforced murder of a handicapped woman, Terri Schiavo, by means of starvation and dehydration. We witnessed something we thought could only have happened in a Nazi Germany of the past. During the thirteen days of her slow execution by a method that is universally criminal to do even to a dog, we were bombarded by an [im]moral debate to justify or condemn her untimely demise with each side framing the argument in the terms that would support their diverse positions. Who was/is right in their position? Who stands on the moral high ground?

In such a state of moral confusion, it becomes the divine imperative of the pastor to find the proper frame for the debate and guide Christian believers into a righteous conclusion, and thus holy action. First and foremost, the guiding principle in all decisions of faith must be divine guidance from the Word of God, especially the words of Jesus Christ, because it is before Him at the Great White Throne of judgment we will all stand and answer for our righteousness and unrighteousness thoughts, words, actions and failures to act. As in the case of Terri Schiavo, we will not answer to a court system, a congress, a head of state, or even Terri Schiavo herself. Therefore the whole concept of "Terri’s wishes" or a "Living Will" is a distraction from facing the real issues of eternal life and death. Just because a loved one requests that their life be taken in a certain fashion, in the absence of their ability to direct, we will not be exempt from divine judgment from obeying the commandment, "You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13 NIV) It is not a coincidence that as the Ten Commandments are methodically removed from all courthouses, including the Supreme Court, that these same courts are ordering the commandment, "you shall not murder," be broken. The question returns, what is the righteous thing to do? What would Jesus have me do?

Jesus Christ offers us the answer in his parable of the Good Samaritan:

Luke 10:25-37 (NLT) One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: "Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?"

26Jesus replied, "What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?"

27The man answered, " 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

28"Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you will live!"

29The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30Jesus replied with an illustration: "A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31"By chance a Jewish priest came along; but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33"Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt deep pity. 34Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35The next day he handed the innkeeper two pieces of silver and told him to take care of the man. 'If his bill runs higher than that,' he said, 'I'll pay the difference the next time I am here.'

36"Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?" Jesus asked.

37The man replied, "The one who showed him mercy."

Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same."

The first side of this holy frame for answering our question is that whenever one seeks to justify any position about someone else, the proper frame must always be about oneself and God. The Scripture, in Jesus view, is always about two persons only—me and God. The "expert" in the parable was trying to justify himself in his judgments regarding someone else. The "expert in the law" asked, "who is my neighbor" and Jesus commanded him to be a good neighbor. Jesus reminds us that it is always about me and God. Likewise in the case of what must we do regarding Terri Schiavo, the frame is not what others may wish or command, but what must I do.

Luke 10:29 (NLT) The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

 

Luke 10:36-37 (NLT) "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?" Jesus asked.

37The man replied, "The one who showed him mercy."

Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same."

The second side of the holy frame is to remember that how we respond to the question of what must I do, is that my response will have eternal consequences. The real question is, "Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?" Our responses when put in the position of deciding life and death regarding the Terri Schiavos that will confront us individually and as a nation in the future will be used to judge our eternal salvation or condemnation. Jesus Christ declares, "Do this and you will live!"

Luke 10:25-28 (NLT) One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: "Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?"

26Jesus replied, "What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?"

27The man answered, " 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

28"Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you will live!"

The third side of the frame of this most eternally crucial question is that Jesus has spoken specifically regarding those who appear "half dead," and cannot speak or care for themselves in order to live.

Luke 10:30 (NLT) Jesus replied with an illustration: "A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

Fourth, the response that was lifted up as leading to eternal life is to care without speculation or debate. Likewise the actions that were condemned and thus leading to an eternally damnable judgment was to withhold medical care, food and water to those who appear as "half dead."

Luke 10:34 (NLT) Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.

Fifth, God’s standard of value is not what society values and, most times, is just the opposite. Much of the Terri Schiavo debate and similar cases has been framed in terms of "quality of life" and "death with dignity." In order even to entertain such a debate one must determine a standard for giving value to a life as qualified and unqualified, and a life as dignified and undignified. In the current debate of such issues of life and death, the real decision almost always leads to the death of someone through deliberate action or forced inaction as in preventing those who wish to offer care, which according to the Biblical standard is murder. No matter how the debate is framed the resulting action is the murder of the unqualified and the undignified. In the above parable, those who did not value the "half dead" even though they represented the "most valued" priests and Temple workers were excluded from those whose actions would lead to eternal life. The characters of the parable who were valued according to God’s standards were the "despised Samaritan" and the "half dead."

Luke 10:31-33 (NLT) "By chance a Jewish priest came along; but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33"Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt deep pity.

 

Luke 10:36-37 (NLT) "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?" Jesus asked.

37The man replied, "The one who showed him mercy."

Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same."

Finally, the love and mercy shown by the "despised" for the despised had no disqualifications of time or condition; it was without limit. The Samaritan did not give him a limit of care before the "half dead" should be returned to the roadside to die as unqualified and undignified for continued care. The Samaritan said, "if his bill runs higher…I’ll pay the difference." Love and mercy have no limit!

Luke 10:34-35 (NLT) Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35The next day he handed the innkeeper two pieces of silver and told him to take care of the man. 'If his bill runs higher than that,' he said, 'I'll pay the difference the next time I am here.'

Therefore, in summary, the questions and moral frame of the Terri Schiavo situation as well a many in similar situations in the U.S. and the world must always be in terms of "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The question can never be framed in terms of what the courts, the congress, the heads of state or even the "half dead" say when they were fully alive; but, what must I do? Jesus Christ, judge and giver of eternal life and eternal death says in his parable, we should care; offer love and mercy, without limit, and do it especially to those our misguided society deems too unqualified and too undignified to live. The consequences of our decisions will determine our eternal life or death.

Matthew 25:34-40 (NLT) Then the King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'

37"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?...40And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

What would Jesus have me to do in the case of Terri Schiavo? In the words of Jesus Christ, "now, go and do likewise...and you will live."


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