February 3, 2006

Healthcare Pt 1: Scriptural Foundations

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:15 pm

So where to start in discerning a Christian view towards health care? With Scripture, of course, and we don’t have to perform any hermeneutic acrobatics to tease out what the Bible has to say about it. From Matthew:

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In this parable, Jesus is giving us a commandment. There is no wiggle room. Both inerrantists and theological progressives can agree that there is no subtle meaning here: we are to care for the needy, including the sick. In fact, this parable stands out for its lack of grace. Those who obey will be given eternal life, and those who don’t will receive eternal punishment.

Still, there are two possible interpretations when Jesus speaks about “the least of these”. Most commentaries interpret this as meaning the needy among all of humanity, but it can also be interpreted as only including the needy among Jesus’s followers. This latter interpretation would imply that we are only commanded to care for our fellow Christians, and not for any those outside the church.

But another verse makes it clear that Jesus is including all people in this commandment:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

The Samaritans were the outcasts from the chosen people of Israel. They were not part of the righteous community of believers. Yet Jesus commands us to do for the Samaritan as the Samaritan did for the man in the road: give mercy to to the sick. There are no tests, no qualifications for those we are to care for.

What’s interesting is that Jesus tells us nothing about the man who was attacked by the robbers. He doesn’t tell us whether he was a moral, kind man or a carousing, obnoxious boor. The Samaritan doesn’t care for him because the man deserves it, but because he needs it. The victim hasn’t earned the care he receives, and we are told the Samaritan spends his own money to provide care for the man. In this story, the healthy Samaritan pays to provide care for the sick Jew with no preconditions, and we are to do likewise.

At the same time, there is no talk of the beaten man’s “right to health care”. So much of the liberal discussion of health care resorts to such “rights” talk. Jesus doesn’t tell the sick that they have a right to be cared for. Instead he tells the healthy, in fact, he commands the healthy to care for the sick. And we are to do likewise.

The Bible is clear: we are commanded to care for the sick because in doing so we are caring for Jesus. We are not to ask whether they deserve it or are worthy — we are simply to have mercy and care for them. We are not to care only for those in our church or our religion, but for the “least” of all of humanity. The sick don’t have the right to be cared for, but we all have been commanded to care for them regardless. And caring for the sick means not just providing sympathy, but paying for their care as well.

But carrying a man to an inn and paying the innkeeper to care for him isn’t a model that scales up to a nation of hundreds of millions of people.

Next: so what’s wrong with the U.S. health care system?


  1. “The Samaritan doesn’t care for him because the man deserves it, but because he needs it.”

    Good point, Bob. Now compare that to Mark 1: “MOVED WITH PITY, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him,
    and said to him…”

    Our starting point for healthcare should be compassion for the other person. It is interesting that with the first two healing stories in Mark (the man with an unclean spirit and Simon’s mother-in-law), neither individual asks to be healed, Jesus sees a need and responds. It is also interesting that Mark tells us that Jesus came to preach and teach and that his teaching impressed all the people in the synagogue, but we are not told what he said. Instead we are told what he did… he healed. Today we talk about healthcare but don’t do anything about it.

    Here’s a second thought… today we think of healthcare (healing) as repairing something that is broken. I get my broken arm repaired, I get my heart repaired, and so forth. That was not the understanding during Jesus’ day. In Jesus’ day illness is something that kept people from fulfilling their role in society. One was restored to health so that they could fulfill their role. The evil spirit in the synagogue kept the man from worshiping God… casting out the evil spirit enabled the man to again worship God. Simon’s mother-in-law, as the matriarch of the family, would have been the one responsible for hospitality and service. When Mark writes, “…and immediately the fever left her, and she served them…” what Mark is saying is that she was returned to her proper position in that society.

    What if we thought of healthcare as an investment rather than repair work? An investment that enables people to become active contributing members of society.

    Comment by Tony — February 4, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  2. Good point, Tony!

    Comment by wildwest — February 6, 2006 @ 7:04 am

  3. Actually, two good points…thanks Tony! It just strikes me how many positive examples of Jesus both healing and commanding us to heal, yet so many think that gay rights is the most important issue for us as Christians. If we truly listen to Jesus, then helping the poor and the sick are the top two issues of our day.

    Comment by Bob — February 6, 2006 @ 9:59 am

  4. One of the things I’ve noticed about Jesus’ healings is the way he goes to the heart of the problem.

    Consider his words to the paralytic in Mark 2, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Here was a man who was paralyzed by his guilt. In order to be made whole, he needed to know he was forgiven.

    Contrast that with Jesus’ words to a lame man in John 5, “Do you want to be made well?” The man replied with an excuse. Perhaps he hadn’t realized that his own state of mind was exacerbating his physical condition.

    Or in the case of a girl thought to be dead in Luke 8, Jesus said “She is not dead but sleeping,” once again pointing to a deeper reality beyond the common wisdom.

    Jesus didn’t have a formula or a routine for healing. He started where each person was, and worked on making them whole.

    Comment by BruceA — February 6, 2006 @ 10:44 pm

  5. BruceA… good points. I am attempting a study in Mark of the difference between “unclean Spirit” and “demons”. They are different words in Greek yet the KJV translates them both as “devils”. I have my own theories but want to inquire of you if you have done a word study on this.

    Comment by Tony — February 8, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  6. Tony – No, I haven’t done a word study on “unclean spirit” vs. “demon.” Sory.

    Comment by BruceA — February 8, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  7. […] So far in this series of posts I have examined the biblical foundation for healthcare, the flaws in the current U.S. system, Bush’s proposals for healthcare, and some of the progressive alternatives for providing universal healthcare. All of this has been leading to the key question: as progressive Christians, what U.S. healthcare policies are we to advocate? […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Healthcare Pt 5: What’s the Solution? — March 12, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

  8. This website is so interesting and helpful. Everybody’s attitude is so uplifting, and your hunger for more knowledge of your faith is so inspiring.

    Comment by Thankful Student — May 4, 2006 @ 5:06 pm

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