Jesus and healthcare policy
May 1, 2010
Thank God we finally have healthcare reform in America. One had to wonder how the Republican party could have resisted this effort with so much hostility when, for decades, and certainly during the second Bush administration, it was close to being a party of Christian theocracy. Do the social conservatives in the conservative movement read their Bible? Have they thought at all about what Jesus’ healthcare policy was? For he certainly had one.
In his own time, Jesus was most known for his ability to heal. This isn’t true in our time; in fact, it’s often a source of embarrassment. This is because true spiritual healing and other ‘supernatural miracles’ are so rare in our time that we now doubt them. Charlatans and the theater of televangelism on the one hand, and the superficiality of New Age self-help culture, on the other, have so tainted the topic that we no longer really know how to talk about spiritual healing. And, by contrast, medical science is so good at healing that there doesn’t seem much point in braving the swamps of Jesus’ healing ‘miracles’, except maybe to present some scientific explanation for how they could have happened.
Whether these healings happened as described and how they might have happened are interesting questions and I intend to explore them at some point. There is much more to say about how Jesus healed than the usual discussion of psychosomatic medicine. But there are other questions to ask that speak more directly to our own concerns about healthcare and healthcare policy. For instance, why did Jesus heal? Preeminent among these questions, though, is: whom did Jesus heal?
Jesus healed the poor.
Jesus healed 27 times in the gospels, if you include the exorcisms. Statistically, the spirit-possessed top the list with six instances. Next come the blind, at 5, and the paralyzed or crippled, at 4. Then, at three, the deaf and/or mute and people with fevers. Two instances of lepers and one each of dropsy, epilepsy (assigned to spirit possession in the gospels), menstrual bleeding, and a sword wound. Putting aside the exorcisms, which deserve their own treatment, 43% of Jesus’ healings were people whom the Bible formally categorized among the poor—that is, the blind and the lame.
There are six formal categories or kinds of poverty in the Bible, which are often grouped together, especially in the instructions of Torah: the blind and the lame, the widow and the orphan, the resident alien and the Levite. All were poor because they had no way to support themselves, either because they could not work or because they could not own land.
Jesus added a seventh to the classic list: lepers. These were not people with Hanson’s disease, of Ben Hur fame. They were people with chronic skin diseases, like psoriasis, hives and shingles. These ‘lepers’ were barred by law from meaningful economic contact with others: they couldn’t work at normal trades, handle food, or even come close to people who cared about ritual purity, most notably, priests, Pharisees and other religious conservatives.
The most important breakthrough from the recently passed healthcare insurance reform is that now, for the first time, poor people will be able to get healthcare insurance they can afford.
Trying to block this legislation was (speaking in the religious conservatives’ own language) the devil’s work; that is, fighting this legislation was tantamount to thwarting the primary mission of the Christ, as Jesus defined it in Luke 4:18 (“good news for the poor”): relieving the poor of the burdens of debt and offering them wholeness in the kingdom of God.
Christian conservatives who take their Bible seriously should have tried to make this legislation as strong and as protective of the poor as possible, just as their Lord did, instead of opposing it. Following Jesus’ model, they should have supported a single-payer system, because all the evidence indicates that such a system would have been more efficient and effective, and because ‘socializing’ medicine in this way is exactly what a theocratic state following the teachings of Jesus would look like; see Acts 2 and 4. On the other hand, Christian conservatives who support the lawsuits against this legislation stand in for Satan, who would like nothing better than to see the priorities of the Messiah undermined by his own followers.
Finally, a note about schedule: I am going away for a week and will have no access to the Internet, so I won’t be posting on BibleMonster until the week of May 9.