Thursday, August 20, 2009

Healing Ministries

The debate over health care reform is very often framed as an issue relating to money, i.e., it is about how we pay for health care, rather than the quality of care received. Yet, it seems to me that there is a relationship between what care we get, what care we can afford, and what this says about the kind of society in which we live. As a self-professed Christian, the relationships among these questions become even more pointed precisely because part of the ministry of Jesus was a healing ministry.

People came to Jesus for any number of reasons, but quite frequently he encountered people in need of physical healing, which he treats as having spiritual roots. A paralytic is cured by being lowered through the roof of a crowded house. Jesus is challenged by some over the root cause of a man's blindness and sees the possibilities for God's glory to be revealed, rather than any sin this man, or any of his ancestors, may have committed. A woman with "an issue of blood", not only suffering physically but socially as well (she was ritually unclean), is healed through her "faith", her boldness in being willing to risk the uncleanliness of another by touching the hem of Jesus' garment.

Those in need came to Jesus for help. Jesus, in turn offered not just a cure for their physical ailment, but the comfort and grace and even glory of the presence of God. The artificial lines between the spiritual and the physical weren't a consideration for Jesus; making the sick and unclean whole, restoring them to communion with others, was not just a way of making these people better. It was also a sign, an example, of what Jesus meant when he talked about "the Kingdom of God".

The United States is a country with a long history of insouciance toward human life. Born in the violence of revolution, we have long histories of the violent social repression of various minority groups, the legal dehumanization of African slaves, occasional outbursts of extra-legal vigilantism, a Civil War that is the bloodiest such episode in our history. Even today, our violent crime rate is far higher than most other industrialized countries.

Not just do our social mores permit a certain amount of violence; so does our legal system. We execute individuals convicted of violent crimes, as do Iran, Syria, and Lybia, but unlike Great Britain, France, or Germany. Even as evidence of race and class bias in the apportionment of these sentences comes clearer every year; even as more and more persons awaiting the executioner are exonerated by better evidentiary techniques; there is still majority support for putting to death a group of citizens deemed beyond the reach of compassion by our society.

In the midst of all this, comes a debate over access to health care. We have this odd juxtaposition occurring. A society whose roots include a dedication to the Christian faith and practice, which also has a lax attitude toward human life, is struggling to accept the idea that access to health care is not to be limited by economic status, or other factors often weighed by private insurers for considering eligibility for insurance. It seems to me that we members of the Body of Christ should speak out of a commitment to the healing ministry of our Savior. Jesus understood no distinction between the physical, the social, and the spiritual; "curing" one was actually "healing" to all. Offering access to quality health care to all Americans would be a large step in the direction not only of ensuring no American is denied access to the best treatment options available do to a lack of availability to pay. It would also be a step away from our history of social violence, and our culture of acceptance of violence and dehumanization.

Allowing access to health care, including publicly funded health insurance, would not just offer the "cure" of the doctors and their healing work. It would heal some of the brokenness in American society. It would be a bold statement that class is no barrier to acceptance as part of our society. It would be a small whisper that the long history of violence no longer holds sway. Rather than accept violence, but excluding the victims from care, we have an opportunity to say, with Jesus, that one is a part of the society again.

Virtual Tin Cup

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