I’ve been on a theme for a few weeks, and I’m staying for at least another week, only this week, I’m going more in-depth on the subject of healthcare provision.
I’ll start with the Beatitudes, the sermon on the mount, Matt 5:1-12.
This sets the tone for Jesus’ teaching, and marks a radical departure from what had previously been considered good, prudent and Godly. Jesus’ followers are told that God looks kindly on those who get the short end of the stick, on those who make peace and spread harmony, who show mercy, who yearn for what is right. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have “Blessed are the merciful” in foot-high letters in the Old Bailey. How about “blessed are the peacemakers” at the MoD?
More directly applicable to today’s subject, we find Jesus teaching in a small house, which is rammed full of people. Those who can’t get inside are crowded around the doors and windows, just to get an ear to this prophet. Mark 2:1-12 describes the situation and the determination of a man’s friends to get him close to the healer. In today’s terms, the ambulance can’t get through the traffic, so the paramedics cut a different path through to the doctor. This involves a certain degree of property damage. Sorry about that: people are more important than things, and this man needs Jesus. For his part, Jesus appears delighted to see the man, cures him and sends him on his way (and expounds a theological point while he does so). Jesus takes no payment, neither does he demand that the cured man go to his church, spread the word or even tell a gay person they’re going to Hell. Just “get up, pick up your mat and go home.”
Working weekends, Jesus stopped by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. John 5:1-15 outlines the scene. The story went that an angel passed by the waters of the pool from time to time and stirred them up. If you were first into the pool after this event, you were cured. The man concerned had been unable to make his own way to the pool fast enough and had been stuck there, begging, for nearly 40 years (in Bible-speak, this means “a very long time”, not literally 38 years but I digress). Jesus asks him if he wants to be well and cures him, again with “pick up your mat and walk.” No payment, no demand of any particular action, although, when Jesus and the man encounter each other later, Jesus does tell the man to live a good life.
In addition to curing people directly, Jesus also told stories to help people understand how to follow God’s way. In the hugely famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we begin with a legal expert bending Jesus’ ear about what it means to follow God’s way. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes at the questioner here – not even Jesus likes to spend much time with lawyers – and Jesus challenges the man to think for a moment. The lawyer’s final question is, more-or-less “whom can I ignore and still make it into God’s kingdom?” Jesus turns it around and says that it is by our actions that we show our neighbourliness. “Love your neighbour” is not an invitation to love only those nearest to you: it is an invitation to show how widely you love, by collecting as many neighbours as you can. Points not to be missed in this story are: the ambulance does not charge for its services; the man in need of care receives the care he needs; that care is funded by others; follow-up care is also funded by others; the man who receives the greatest praise in this story is an outsider, one whom the Jewish people would normally cross the street to avoid.
So, what do we do about all this generous giving that Jesus is showing us? Matthew 10 shows Jesus sending out his disciples with the instruction to heal the sick. They are not to ask payment for performing healing: they are to be supported by the community in which the healing takes place. That sounds like a very modern concept to me. In today’s money, that would be a bit like a town/region/country realising that everyone is better off if there are healers amongst the people, so everyone clubs together and chips in a few quid to support the healer in her ministry. That could look like funding healthcare from general taxation.
But what about follow-up? What about making sure that the cured person is grateful for being cured? What about people who really don’t deserve our help? What about freeloaders and scroungers? What about the idle or the lazy? Didn’t Paul say that those who didn’t work should not eat?
Jesus doesn’t seem to have too many concerns on that score. He seemed to think that love is enough. Luke 19:1-10 sees Jesus on tour in Jericho, where his fame had preceded him. Many people had gathered to get a glimpse of the rock-star prophet as he made his way through the town. I’m sure that many of the people would been thrilled to have the honour of making Jesus welcome in their home and sharing dinner with him. The great and the noble had come out, and would gladly have opened their homes to him; the ordinary people were there too. As was a much-hated tax man. It was widely assumed that all the tax collectors were on the take, and demanded rather more in tax than was legally required. They sent the legal tax to Rome and pocketed the difference. Zacchaeus had been drawn by the prophet too. He was up a tree, trying to get a glimpse of the great man as he went by, but Jesus stopped and told Zacchaeus to get the dinner on.
That was all that Jesus did. He saw that Zacchaeus was acceptable as a person, that Zacchaeus’ house was an acceptable venue for dinner, that he, Jesus, was willing to sit at table with a widely-hated figure, a sinner, a collaborator with the Romans, and just eat with him. Jesus did not demand that Zacchaeus repent before he took dinner; Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus that he’d been a very naughty boy; Jesus didn’t say anything at all beyond you are acceptable to God. It was this experience of being loved that transformed Zacchaeus. Jesus showed us the way to care for our neighbours here. He showed us that God’s love, spread by us, is enough. We are not to judge worthiness, we are to love, and to allow that love to do its work. Before we ration our compassion and help only those we think will appreciate our gifts and not waste them, we are to love, and love generously.
What is our reward, then, for all our generosity? For the times when we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, cure the sick, visit the lonely, feed the hungry? Matthew 25:31-46 lays it out in pretty clear terms. We are to help those around us who need help, and if we ignore them, at our peril, we ignore Christ himself.
Still unsure? I’ll conclude with Luke 16:19-31. The rich man goes about his business, feasting and enjoying his wealth. Every time he leaves his house, he steps over Lazarus, the poor beggar who has been taking advantage of the fact that anti-homeless spikes have not been invented yet. Eventually, both men die, and the rich man finds himself in firey torment, where he can see Lazarus being comforted at Abraham’s breast. I challenge you to read this and continue to defend a party whose actions take away assistance from those who most need it and channel wealth into the hands of those who are already wealthy.