Off the hook, thank God!
That’s what Christians might be thinking when they read that famous passage from 2 Corinthians in which the Apostle Paul writes that from now on we regard no one, literally, “according to the flesh” – or, as it is normally translated, “a human point of view.”
Because health care and people’s access to it is clearly about “flesh” of the human kind, Paul was undoubtedly giving a pass to the 21st-century American followers of Jesus on our great national debate, right?
And we don’t have to get all worked up about the kind of “reconciliation” over which members of the U.S. Congress are fighting. Why should we worry about whether the differences between the version of the legislation passed by the Senate and the one adopted by the House can be melded by a simple majority vote through what’s called, from a human point of view, “budget reconciliation”?
All we Christians have to worry about is getting people healed in the spiritual realm, not the human and fleshly arena, right?
After all, as Paul writes just a few sentences later, through the work of Jesus Christ, God has reconciled the world to God’s self and entrusted to us, the followers of Jesus, the ministry of conveying to the world the message about what God has already accomplished spiritually.
That happened, according to Paul, by God no longer holding human beings accountable for what had separated them from God – their violations against God – and declaring all of us righteous by the redeeming work of Christ – the one who, on the cross, took on all the sins of the world so we all might become righteous.
If it’s completely on the spiritual side of the ledger and not on the human and fleshly side, we Christians are off the hook in the health-care debate, including that business about “budget reconciliation,” right?
Actually, I think that’s a pretty fair reading and rendering of what Paul was up to when writing this letter to the Corinthian church. This is not a passage about human reconciliation. It is about, in fact, spiritual reconciliation.
The fact of the matter is that Paul here was anything but a reconciler on the human side of the ledger. As his correspondence with the early church in Corinth makes clear, Paul is in the fight of his ministerial life about his teaching authority against opponents who have a much different interpretation of the Christian message and life. The Apostle Paul wasn’t in the business of reconciling with his opponents; he was in the business of defeating them – decisively.
So, we’re off the hook, right?
Well, yes, except for the line that Paul wrote just before the famous passage about God’s reconciling action in Christ and our being ambassadors of that spiritual reconciliation. That sentence reads: “And Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for the one who died and was raised for them.”
That matter of “living no longer for themselves” – but living for the reconciling Christ who acted redemptively for all – sounds to me a lot like a job description for those who accept, embrace and try to live out what it now means to be righteous in the new creation.
Yes, “living no longer for themselves” surely means our being ambassadors to everyone for the reconciliation with God that brings eternal spiritual life through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. But living instead for Christ – the Christ whose earthly ministry so centrally involved the healing of bodies and minds, the casting out of demons, and the restoration of life to the dead and dying – also must include our being agents of human and fleshly healing.
And even more, that healing of spirit and mind and body, because it is done for Christ, must apply to everyone.
For Christians then, being reconciled to God through Christ in the new creation that is already here – already in place – inescapably involves our being engaged in the redemption of all of life – spiritual and mental and physical – for all.
Or put still another way, the comprehensive character of the spiritual reconciliation accomplished for us through Christ doesn’t restrict us to an isolated spiritual realm but places us in a new creation that includes both the spiritual and the physical. In that new creation we are righteous by no longer living for ourselves but by living for the One who redeems all and everyone.
That conclusion about the inclusiveness of our reconciling and redemptive work as part of our living for Christ doesn’t tell us how we are to accomplish it. It doesn’t provide us with a detailed methodology of evangelism. It doesn’t tell us what techniques we ought to use to restore health to bodies and healing to minds. It doesn’t give us the architectural design of a clinic or the layout of a hospital. It doesn’t supply us with the formula for a state or national health-care policy. It doesn’t even tell us how to pull off a “budget reconciliation.”
But what that conclusion does demand, as we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ, is that the reconciliation with God and the healing of creaturely spirits and bodies and minds has to apply to everybody.
Both spiritually and physically it has to be, as it were, a comprehensive and a comprehensively accessible policy. Whatever the plan, it’s got to cover everybody.
In terms, then, of our involvement in the current national debate, I’m pretty sure that means that we’re very much on the hook again. Right?
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.