Jesus and Universal Health Care

Friday, Apr 6th, 2012

If you had been sitting with friends in a Jerusalem equivalent of a Starbucks circa 30 C.E. and were discussing Jesus’ identity, probably two answers would have emerged:  He was a healer and an exorcist.  While people might speculate about other aspects of his identity, king, Messiah, son of God, no question existed about these two.  The tangible and concrete results were walking, running, seeing, and breathing upon the Galilean hillsides.  All the Gospels seem to agree on this point (although the Gospel of John records no exorcisms by Jesus).  The ministry of healing was a central focus of Jesus’ actions and played a key role in his proclamation of the basileia (reign) of God. 

Remarkably many Christians today relegate health care issues to the medical establishment and insurance providers.  They can also be vocal opponents of universal health care in this country.  One of the leading New Testament Scholars, N. T. Wright, has recently pointed out this irony:

“In your country, for example, there seem to be Christian political voices saying that you shouldn’t have a national healthcare system. To us, in Britain, this is virtually unthinkable. Every other developed country from Norway to New Zealand has healthcare for all of its citizens. We don’t understand all of this opposition to it over here in the U.S. And, we should remember: In the ancient world, there wasn’t any healthcare system. It was the Christians, very early on, who introduced the idea that we should care for people beyond the circle of our own kin. Christians taught that we should care for the poor and disadvantaged. Christians eventually organized hospitals. [Emphasis added.] To hear people standing up in your political debate and saying—“If you are followers of Jesus, you must reject universal healthcare coverage!”—and that’s unthinkable to us. Those of us who are Christians in other parts of the world are saying: We can’t understand this political language. It’s not our value in our countries. It’s not even in keeping with traditional Christian teaching on caring for others. We can’t understand what we are hearing from some of your politicians on this point.”  [For the full interview, follow this link: “N. T. Wright Interview:  Why Left, Right & Lewis Get It Wrong.”]

Wright is right.  To oppose universal health care is “not even in keeping with traditional Christian teaching on caring for others.” Have those who professed to follow Jesus noticed this disconnect?  Individuals seem to conveniently check their Christian commitment on this issue.  Perhaps the reason is because they fear the dreaded S-word:  Socialism.  My sense is we should run more towards this concept than from it.  Socialism at its bottom line is about looking out for others.  Capitalism, on the other hand, is about looking out for oneself.  In capitalism, you might potentially care about others, if they benefit you, but if they don’t . . . .   

Churches today should be supportive of a health care system that is universal for all.  What form should that system take?  I do not know.  A government system could work–if greed, egos, and personal political agendas did not get in the way.  I have always wondered what it would look like if a church (or group of churches) not only called a pastor but also called a doctor and provided health care for church members. While in Burma, I visited a church that ran just such a program.  Having a healing ministry within the context of the church certain imitates the ministry of Jesus and highlights the basileia of God both in word and deed.