Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jesus and Health Care Reform

What should health care reform mean to followers of Jesus, and is this a legitimate question? It is a legitimate question, because Jesus spoke to a people as well as to persons, and the kingdom of heaven is in some sort a government. The Acts of the Apostles show that for the first followers of Jesus faith was not limited to individual action:
And all they that believed were together and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart: Praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved. Acts 2:44-47
And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them. And with great power did the apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all. Neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the price of the things they sold, And laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. And Joseph, who, by the apostles, was surnamed Barnabas (which is, by interpretation, The son of consolation), a Levite, a Cyprian born, Having land, sold it and brought the price and laid it at the feet of the Apostles. But a certain man named Ananias, with Saphira his wife, sold a piece of land, And by fraud kept back part of the price of the land, his wife being privy thereunto: and bringing a certain part of it, laid it at the feet of the apostles. But Peter said: Ananias, why hath Satan tempted thy heart, that thou shouldst lie to the Holy Ghost and by fraud keep part of the price of the land? Whilst it remained, did it not remain to thee? And after it was sold, was it not in thy power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thy heart? Thou hast not lied to men, but to God. And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and gave up the ghost. And there came great fear upon all that heard it. And the young men rising up, removed him, and carrying him out, buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. And Peter said to her: Tell me, woman, whether you sold the land for so much? And she said: Yea, for so much. And Peter said unto her: Why have you agreed together to tempt the spirit of the Lord? Behold the feet of them who have buried thy husband are at the door: and they shall carry thee out, Immediately, she fell down before his feet and gave up the ghost. And the young men coming in found her dead: and carried her out and buried her by her husband. And there came great fear upon the whole church and upon all that heard these things. Acts 4:32 - 5:11

Jesus refused political power for himself:
The devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Matthew 4:8-10
Jesus, when he knew that they would come to take him by force and make him king, fled again into the mountains, himself alone. John 6:15
Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence. John 18:36

From which Pilate concludes that Jesus is a king:
Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. John 18:37

To which Pilate responds:
What is truth? John 18:38

Earthly government is from God:
Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. John 19:11

As a good Jew, Jesus obeyed the laws. His parents registered for the census, he paid taxes. He says not one word against soldiers or tax collectors. Neither his accusers nor Pilate can say that he broke any civil law.

How, then, should followers of the God-Man whose human existence was spent in a province of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago think about health care in 21st-century America?

First, schemes and philosophies of government and economics should be secondary. Neither socialism nor capitalism should be as important as God's will. Human and property rights are earthly interpretations of our being children of our Father in heaven. So let us put these aside and follow Jesus.

Jesus healed the sick and gave others power to heal the sick. He was not a doctor, but approved of doctors:
They that are whole need not the physician: but they that are sick. Luke 5:31, Matthew 9:12

Jesus himself did not receive payment, but had money and bought things and (unless the last phrase is an interpolation) gave to the poor:
For some thought, because Judas had the purse, that Jesus had said to him: Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something to the poor. John 13:29

Health is good, and government and private means, taxes and payment, are not ruled out.

I am sorry that Jesus nowhere says that we are responsible for our own health; rather:
His disciples asked him: Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered: Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. John 9:2-3

Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:26-27, 31-33

Instead, others should be solicitous of our health, and we should be solicitous of others' health, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan:
A lawyer said to Jesus: And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering, said: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who also stripped him and having wounded him went away, leaving him half dead. And it chanced, that a certain priest went down the same way: and seeing him, passed by. In like manner also a Levite, when he was near the place and saw him, passed by. But a certain Samaritan, being on his journey, came near him: and seeing him, was moved with compassion: And going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine: and setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two pence and gave to the host and said: Take care of him; and whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee. Which of these three, in thy opinion, was neighbour to him that fell among the robbers? But he said: He that shewed mercy to him. And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner. Luke 10:29-37

So Christians need not ask, Who is my neighbor?

And in like manner:
And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry and fed thee: thirsty and gave thee drink? Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee? And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. Matthew 25:31-46

We tend to think that both these passages are addressed to us as individuals, but note that in the second passage, nations are gathered together, and in neither the Old nor the New Testaments does God dispense with judging nations; and further, "individual" is not a Biblical term.

What should Christians conclude about Jesus and health care? Not that there is one political or economic answer that applies to every time and culture, but that health (and I drop "care" as perhaps tendentious) should be sought not for oneself but for all, including the least of Jesus' brothers. For we followers of Jesus seek first the kingdom of God. And if the followers of John come and ask us what is the kingdom of God, we shall answer that this is what we seek:
The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Matthew 11:5

By our fruits we shall be known.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let the Magnetic Needle Swing

It seems to make small difference whether a man say that such as phrase or formula is the truth, or that the phrase or formula refers to a truth. Yet on this difference rests his mind's whole relation to life. The first statement ties him; the second lets [sets?] him free; the first shuts windows, the second opens them; the first makes him proud, the second, humble; the first separates him from human history, the second unites him with it. For all human thought is indeterminate, and can, at best, do no more than point in the direction of the truth, trembling and oscillating like the magnetic needle under the current that swings it. If you fix the pointer in any position it will lie. The scientist and the theologian nail down the needle: the poet and the prophet let it swing.

— John Jay Chapman, Letters and Religion, 1924, 84–85.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Something Up His Sleeve

I couldn't find my rosary this morning when I woke up. In the kitchen as I put the kettle on I found the beads hanging out my sleeve.