March 22, 2010
Jesus and the Health Care Bill
It may cost us a bit more, but our nation has taken a compassionate step in the right direction.
This morning—the day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the health-care measure—I feel a sense of gladness. I am glad that millions of Americans, many of them children, will have access to health insurance. I am glad that people with pre-existing medical conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurance companies. And I am also glad that some effort is being made to curtail rising medical expenses, and that certain special interest and business groups will be held to a greater accountability, and that the growing gap between the rich and the poor might be slowed.
I am glad not because I am a Democrat or a Republican but because I think that Jesus, who seemed to take great interest in health issues, is glad. Looking back on his life among people like us, he often acted as a healer. He seemed to delight in curing diseases, restoring disabled people to wholeness, and rewiring damaged minds. You cannot divorce these encounters from the rest of his public ministry. Health-care was in his frame of reference.
My favorite of the Jesus-healing stories is the one where a group of men rip open a roof and lower a friend into the presence of Jesus. I love how the Lord flexed with the moment and used the healing to offer people a vision of holistic health: physical and spiritual. I try to imagine the freshly healed man rolling up his mat and heading out the front door, walking unassisted for the first time in who knows how long.
Then, too, I wonder about all the people (apparently including religious leaders) who had crowded into that house and who’d made it impossible for the man in his original condition of paralysis to get to Jesus in a more conventional way—through the front door. How does it happen that people rationalized, that since they got there first, the suffering guy outside should be left to his own devices?
All of my life I have felt torn between those Christian friends of mine who believe whole-heartedly in healing as a centerpoint of their gospel and those who pray (sometimes benignly) for the health of friends but end up signaling their uncertainty by stating the conditional “if it be thy will.” Is there a third position that mediates between “it’s-always-his-will” and “it’s-probably-not-his-will”? Both extremes seem a tad foolish to me.
In my role as a pastor, there were many occasions when I laid my hands upon a sick person and prayed for healing. I confess that there were some times when I did it simply because it was my job. But in my heart I harbored doubt. Then there were other occasions when I felt a firm conviction about God’s desire and ability to heal, and my prayers were filled with fervor and a faith that affirmed that God could do anything.
Sometimes there seemed to be answers to those prayers of mine. People I prayed for (not necessarily in great numbers) did experience healing: not often of the instant type that Benny Hinn seems to highlight. But I have known people who found their way back from sickness and attributed it to my prayers and the prayers of others. This has not turned me into a so-called faith healer, but it has caused me, as I’ve grown older, to pray more boldly and expectantly when the opportunity has presented itself.
My readings of the life of Jesus convince me that our Lord wants people to be well. As described by the Gospel writers, he often seems disgusted by disease, offended by death. I love to read about those moments when even his better friends wanted to avoid sick people and when they paid more attention to the demands of a schedule than the needs of human beings. On such occasions Jesus would usually cut through the resistance and respond to the cries of someone who was blind or who had a child that was sick, even dying.
I love the moment in Acts 3, when Peter and John approach the Temple and spot a disabled man (from birth) begging. Earlier they wouldn’t have given him the time of day as they hurried on their way. But Jesus had rubbed off on them. Now they noticed the victim. And in this case they tried what they would have resisted trying in the past. They healed the man in the name of Jesus.
I imagine the dilemma of Peter and John as they stand there. I hear them asking how you call Jesus Lord and not ultimately inherit some of his compassion for those who are sick and diseased?
Frankly, that’s the question which has colored my own perspective on the current health-care debate in our country. Like so many others I have often been utterly confused by the arguments and the counter-arguments. I have shrunk from the ugliness of words used by extremists on both sides of the political and ideological divides. I have searched for those who reasoned out the issues with dignity and wisdom. Here and there, I have found them and appreciated them.
In the middle of it, I have come to some conclusions, these being some of them:
1. Any effort that is made to bring health benefits to more people (especially the weak, the poor, the children) is an effort with which I want to identify.
2. Anyone whose argument is based simply on the notion that we cannot afford making medical benefits available to more people does not get my ear. The fact is that our country—we the people—can afford it, even if it means that each of us surrenders a few more bucks that we would have spent on things for ourselves. We just have to conclude that compassion in the face of human need is a greater value than accumulating more stuff.
3. Any initiative that makes it possible for the common person to have the same access to medical science as the rich appear to have is one I want to hear about.
4. And any group that stands up on behalf of our physicians so that they do not have to fear frivolous lawsuits every time they make a diagnosis and propose a treatment is one I want to support.
Beyond the fellow who was lowered through the roof, there are three other people who experienced healing at the hand of Jesus who particularly interest me:
The woman, who for more than a dozen years, exhausted all of her resources trying to find someone to help her with her disease.
The man at the pool of Bethesda who had spent 38 years hoping for a medical miracle but had no one to assist him.
The demoniac of Gadera who epitomizes for me the worst depths to which a human being can sink. In the presence of Jesus he changes from this repulsive condition to one of dignity in which it is said, “he was sitting, clothed, and in his right mind.”
Tell me if this Jesus who sends a chronically ill woman home healed and at peace, who brings a man who has suffered for more than half of his life to wholeness, and who makes it possible for a man to return to his home and family would not be at least reasonably glad that our nation has taken a compassionate step in the right direction this week. I grant you: it may (I’m not sure of this) cost you and me a buck or two extra, but some other people are going to sleep a bit better in coming days, and for that I am glad.
A video summary of yesterday's events in the House of Representatives that captures the rhetoric and tension surrounding health care reform: