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In recent days I have received and heard comments from folks who are against health care reform because, as they say, “Jesus would not worry about health care reform because Jesus was not concerned with politics.”

Most of these people stress that Jesus was about saving souls and that his message was strictly spiritual and focused on each person having a personal relationship with God. While this might be somewhat true, anyone who reads the Gospels should understand that Jesus’ spiritual message of salvation was only a small part of his ministry.

Such comments by Christians point to one sad fact about American Christianity: Many Christians are ignorant to the social justice message of Jesus. Preferring to see Jesus in only spiritual terms, and his message as only about salvation and heaven, we often miss the significance of Jesus as a political figure.

But if we are to call ourselves Christian, we must broaden not only our understanding of Jesus’ message as having social and political ramifications, we must also be open to how that message shapes how we live socially and politically today. Certainly this should influence how Christians should treat the current health care debate.

But in being a prophetic and political voice, Jesus stood in a line of tradition extending back to the vocation of Israel’s prophets, who were called by God to confront the leaders of Israel with their injustices. God’s messengers were not simply proclaiming a spiritual message that had nothing to do with how the powerful treated and marginalized the oppressed. Rather, the messages of the prophets were deeply political, and they spoke judgment against those who did not side with the poor.

Israel’s leaders, who were to be the shepherds and caretakers of God’s people, were charged by God to govern people with justice, to strengthen the weak, to feed the hungry and to shelter the displaced and homeless. These leaders were charged by God to be generous in their leadership, and they were judged by God when they kept their positions through political compromises with the rich and powerful. When Israel’s leaders failed in their God-ordained responsibilities, the prophets served as the voice of God’s judgment.

It is this same prophetic and political message spoken by the ancient prophets and particularly by Jesus that must continually challenge the political leaders of our own day. In many respects, our government leaders have failed in their faithful roles as shepherds of the people, for they have failed to feed the sheep, to strengthen the weak and to heal the sick. Like the political leaders judged by Jesus, they have cared more for themselves and their political agendas and careers.

At a time when our national leaders seem to be hesitating and playing political games over health care reform, we should be asking our leaders some very serious questions about their leadership. Why can’t the richest country in the world provide quality health care for all? Why do many of our leaders side with big insurance and pharmaceutical companies instead of with those who need quality and affordable health care? Why do they listen to the lunatic fringe of the right wing misinformation machine, instead of standing firmly on what is right and just for the vulnerable of our nation?

Yet, we must not place all the blame on these leaders, for many of the citizens of this country, and tragically many who claim to be Christian, are also standing vehemently against any sort of reform. What baffles me is that these detractors claim to be Christian, and in some instances use Christianity as a basis for their stance.

For example, in one video clip of one of those circuses some call town hall meetings, there appears a woman pointing to her Bible as if to say that the Bible is against health care reform. In another one of those meetings, a man screams at Sen. Alan Specter, informing the senator that God will judge him if he supports health reform. Honestly, I am not sure these people read the same Bible as I do, and I am certain they do not follow the Jesus that we read about from that Bible.

If we read our Bible carefully, we will find that God is always on the side of the poor and vulnerable. If we are to be on God’s side of the issue of health care, then we must side with the poor and vulnerable of this nation. We can and we must speak with greater authority, even if those who stand against health care reform continue to scream. We have the power to change things, if we only will.

Like Jesus, we need to have a sincere consciousness about the plight of people in our country, especially the vulnerable. We have a moral and godly responsibility to care about this issue and especially the people who are greatly affected by this problem. We must, if we claim to follow Jesus, speak up for the vulnerable of our nation; we must be the voice of the voiceless. If we are not, then we cannot claim to follow Jesus.

Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher.

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