The crowd is great and presses in on Jesus. A father approaches Jesus with an urgent plea to heal his daughter. Jesus goes with the man to his house. On the way, a woman who has been ailing for 12 years gets close enough to Jesus to touch his cloak. She is healed immediately. Jesus affirms her faith and continues on to the home of the sick girl, even though she has already died.
When he arrives, the crowd outside her home laughs at him when he suggests that she is not dead, but merely sleeping. Taking the little girl’s hand, he speaks to her, “Little girl, get up.” She is well.
I imagine that Jesus could have spent the better part of each of his days here on earth healing the sick, curing the lame and raising the dead. It is a wonder that there are not more healing stories in the scriptures.
We could sure use a word from Jesus in the midst of all the talk about health care reform. Like so many issues in our country these days, it is one that can move quickly from conversation, to argument, to storm. Should health care be a right or a privilege? Should it be funded publicly or privately? Should it be limited to what you can afford or provided according to what you need? Should the government be less involved or more involved?
What would Jesus say about our health care system? Time and again, in scripture, we find Jesus showing compassion to the sick and diseased. We think of these stories as healing stories or miracle stories, but not so much as health care stories. Even though Jesus is sometimes referred to as the Great Physician, he was performing miracles, not practicing medicine. Caring for the sick, the dying and the dead was ministry for Jesus.
Because life is so different now than it was 2,000 years ago, we don’t know what Jesus would say specifically about our 21st-century health care system. We know that Jesus would have us be caring and compassionate toward those who are sick and suffering. Christ always calls us to advocate for justice and mercy for those with no voice. Yet, caring for the sick is no longer simply an act of compassion; it is big business. Comforting the afflicted is no longer simply a matter of mercy; it is an industry.
Interestingly, the people who founded the first hospital in what would become the United States heard a word about health care in one of Jesus’ most well-known stories — The Good Samaritan. They took words out of his mouth to convey the purpose of their new endeavor, and inscribed them on the hospital’s seal. The words are those spoken by the Samaritan to the Innkeeper, “Take care of him and I will repay thee.”
It would have been an appropriate motto for a new ministry started by a religious group, but it was no religious group that founded the Pennsylvania hospital. The funding came from private contributions raised by Benjamin Franklin and matched by funds from an act of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The bill authorizing the hospital was signed into law May 11, 1751.
Before there were liberals and conservatives, before there were socialists and capitalists and a host of other labels that we usually put on people and ideas with whom we disagree, there was government-funded health care in what would become the United States. Compassion and mercy are not recent innovations. They are a part of both our national and our spiritual heritage.
Our prayer ought to be always for clarity and understanding. Our goal ought to be a system of health care that provides the advantages of 21st-century medical technology with the timeless values of compassion, mercy and justice in a way that is feasible and fair for today. For such a system to emerge, unselfish and responsible leaders will be needed. They will need to be unselfish enough to not seek credit for what works, and responsible enough to accept responsibility for what does not.
We look to doctors, scientists and medical professionals to provide the technology. We ask business and government leaders to work out the economics. Our role as followers of Christ is to make certain that compassion, mercy and justice do not get lost in the shuffle, but are an integral part of providing health care to those in need.
Some in the crowd laughed at Jesus when he told them that there was hope for healing, that the little girl was only asleep. Their laughter did not stop him from calling her to life, nor should it keep his followers from holding out the same hope to those who are sick and suffering.
Ed Sunday-Winters is senior pastor of Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He blogs at Just Words.
Ed Sunday-Winters is pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ in Greensboro, Vermont.