Should Christians be concerned about healthcare for the poor?

Should Christians be concerned about healthcare for the poor?  Of course, the answer is yes.  Isn’t it?  In theory, it’s hard to argue against the idea.  However, in practice, it’s apparently very easy to just ignore it.  Does that sound familiar?  If you’re Christian, it should resonate, loud and clear.  Even if you’re not Christian, chances are you know something about “the good Samaritan”.  Even if you don’t know where it came from, that concept is known by all sorts of people.

Ambulence - Should Christians be concerned about healthcare for the poor?So let’s look at the question of healthcare for the poor in that light.  We’ll see what Jesus says on the topic.  After all, Jesus was the One who first put forth the idea of the good Samaritan.  And then we’ll see what happens today.  How we went from what Jesus taught, to a scenario where that’s pretty much impossible for all but the extremely wealthy people in the world, and how too many Christians have done the unneighborly thing by, well, by doing what we do.  We’ll look at that in a moment.

The good Samaritan: Jesus and healthcare for the poor

For anyone who doesn’t know or remember the origins of the good Samaritan, it’s immediately below.  But before reading it, we must realize that the Jewish people absolutely hated the Samaritans.  They were a mixed-race people. Half Jewish and half Assyrian.  That also meant they were a mix of Jews and Gentiles.  This mix came about when the Jewish people in the Northern Kingdom of Judah were defeated and exiled to Assyria.  It’s all the stuff we love to hate today – all rolled into one group of people.

So when we read about the good Samaritan below, we need to keep in mind not only what happened, but who was involved.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

10:25-28 pp — Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-31

Lk 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This “expert in the law” was most likely an expert in Mosaic Law, the law from the Old Testament.  Based on other verses in Luke’s Gospel, probably one of the “teachers of the law”.  Remember, the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law hated Jesus because of what He taught.

Therefore, the question was a trap.  Something to get Jesus to say something that would turn the people against Jesus and further enrage the Jewish leaders.  I point this out, because what Jesus said will make people upset, even today.  Not because He was wrong, but because what Jesus ultimately said goes often goes against the way we want to live our lives.

Lk 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

As He often did, Jesus turned the question back on the one who asked.

Lk 10:27 He answered: “ ‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’”

The expert in the law got that one right.  Either he heard Jesus say this earlier, or someone told him about it.  We see that exact statement from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.

The Greatest Commandment – Matthew

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Lk 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Here’s the thing though.  Knowing the answer and living out the answer are two very different things.  Knowledge of the head isn’t knowledge of the heart.  We can very easily ignore what we know in our heads.  It’s not so easy to ignore what we know and believe in our hearts.

Lk 10:29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

This expert in the law is about to hear something he didn’t want to hear.  He knows in his head who he believes his neighbor should be.  People just like him.  But that’s not what Jesus is going to say.  It’s the same problem for us.  However, if we knew what Jesus said in our hearts, we’d probably remember something else Jesus said.  Here’s another passage from Matthew.

Love for Enemies

Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Yes, people we don’t like are probably going to turn out to be our neighbors.  Not only that, but people we hate.  If we’re supposed to love them, we have to also know, in our hearts, that Jesus is going to say they are our neighbors. 

And so Jesus begins the parable of The Good Samaritan.

Lk 10:30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.

As is often the case when Jesus tells a parable, we don’t know anything about this man.  I believe that’s to keep us from placing limits on who he is.  If Jesus said anything about him, we’d then assume this is the only type of person Jesus is talking about.  I think it’s better for us to imagine the worst possible case for this man, based on our personal biases.  Then, also assume Jesus is talking about someone we’d look at at least as unfavorably as our worst-case scenario.

They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

Not good.  Naked, badly beaten, and halfway to the grave.  But it’s worse.

That road between Jerusalem and Jericho was one that wasn’t traveled by that many people.  It was known to be dangerous.  Few people took it unless they were in a hurry, since it was shorter than the road normally taken.  In other words, the robbers who beat this man could still be around.  Anyone stopping to help could be their next victim. 

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

We cannot tell from the Greek word whether this is a Jewish or pagan priest.  Again, the best approach for the listener / reader is to assume it’s the one they’d least like to have it be.  

32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

With the Levite, Jesus takes away any possibility that a Jewish person can assume no Jewish person passed by this man without doing something.  In case you’re not familiar with the term, here’s what it meant.

3019 Λευίτης [Leuites /lyoo·ee·tace/] n pr m. From 3017; TDNT 4:239; TDNTA 530; GK 3324; Three occurrences; AV translates as “Levite” three times. 1 one of the tribe of Levi. 2 in a narrower sense those were called Levites who, not being of the race of Aaron, for whom alone the priesthood was reserved, served as assistants to the priests. It was their duty to keep the sacred utensils and the temple clean, to provide the sacred loaves, to open and shut the gates of the temple, to sing the sacred hymns in the temple, and to do many other things.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

With the Samaritan, Jesus brings up the worst of all possible cases for the expert in the law.  Or for any other Jewish person.  And if we take it as Jesus meant it, the worst possible case for all of us, individually. 

We don’t know about the man who was beaten and left for dead.  But now we do know the Samaritan represents the person we absolutely despise the most.  Given what’s about to happen, and given who already walked by, what we’re about to read is crushing.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.

Just try to imagine this.  We put our life in danger to help someone we despise with a passion.  He’s bloody, and we clean him up. 

By the way, for a Jewish person, this also made them ceremonially unclean.  If the rescuer was Jewish, they’d have to take the time to go through the ritual cleansing process required by Jewish law.  And let’s not forget, they were on this road because they were in a hurry.  All of this will take far more time than what they allowed for travel.  They’re going to be late for something so important that they risked their lives just coming on this route.

But then, the Samaritan puts the man on his own donkey.  That donkey now has the man’s blood on it as well.  Everything that got bloodied is also unclean.  And must be made ceremonially clean.  More time will be taken up.

He takes the beaten man to an inn.  In addition to the cost for the room, there’s probably some sort of cleaning fee involved.  And since there’s blood involved, if the innkeeper was Jewish, this room now also needs to be made ceremonially clean!  The costs are piling up.

35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

But the Samaritan still wasn’t done.  He gave the innkeeper money with instructions to care for the man.  Finally, he promises to come back and reimburse the innkeeper if that wasn’t enough to cover the expense!  It’s like a blank check today.

Before we leave this, let’s flip the point of view.  Consider the possibility that the beaten man was Jewish.  The Samaritan has no idea if that’s the case.  But he might be.  But it’s of no concern to the Samaritan.  He takes care of the beaten man, no matter what.  No questions asked.  No conditions.  Just cares for him.  Even if it might have been someone who despised him.

No wonder Jesus asks His final question.  

Lk 10:36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

At least the expert in the law has the head-knowledge to say the right answer.

Lk 10:37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

However, as we know, head-knowledge isn’t what Jesus is looking for.

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

No – Jesus wants heart-knowledge.  He wants us to do more than just know what He said and be able to repeat it verbally.  He wants us to do it.  As I often write about on my other site, even believe carries an action with it.  As in:

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Yes – even there, action came with that belief.  For more on that thought, please see Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God?

The good Samaritan: People today and healthcare for the poor

So how do we apply that parable to ourselves today? 

Honestly, except for the very wealthy people, we can’t.  Not literally anyway.  Given the cost of healthcare today, who can afford to write a blank check for the care of someone beaten half to death?  And to be brutally honest, the people who can afford to cover the cost of healthcare for the poor aren’t going to be on that road! 

They’re more likely going to be chauffeur-driven limo if it’s a short distance.  Or taking a helicopter if time is of the essence and the drive isn’t easy.  And if it’s a long enough distance, they’ll be on a private jet.  No matter which case, they’re not going to see that person who needs help.  

So what do we do?  Throw our hands up and decide it doesn’t apply to us?

Somehow, I don’t think that’s an answer Jesus is going to be happy with.

Healthcare for the poor – what went wrong?

There’s an excellent timeline of medicine and organized healthcare in an article titled The History of Medicine and Organized Healthcare in America.

The introduction is:

The American history of medicine and organized healthcare is quite a bit different than that of most other first world countries.

While the Civil war propelled the progress of American medicine much faster than what would have probably transpired without it, our staunch belief in capitalism has prevented us from developing the kind of national healthcare the United Kingdom, France, and Canada have used for decades.

As a result, we have our own unique system that has evolved drastically over the past century into something that is both loved and hated by its citizens.

Whichever end of the spectrum you lean toward, there’s no doubt about it: the history of medicine and organized healthcare in America is a long and winding road. How we’ve gotten to where we are today is quite a story, so let’s dive in…

It follows the history of healthcare in the U.S.  from non-existent in colonial times, to the government getting involved during the civil war, to where we are now.  I highly recommend reading it.

In essence, it appears to be like so many of our problems in this country, where we get the government into things that used to be done by churches.  Or at least by religious people.  

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people took care of family and even strangers.  We saw the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ time.  We read of how the early church collected money for the common good.  That included taking care of the poor.  As time moved on, that included hospital care for the poor, Christian or not.  But things changed.

Today, the poor are partly supported by the government and partly by charities.  Even charities, to some extent, receive money from people because the government allows tax deductions for contributions made to those charities.  The government is inextricably woven into the fabric of caring for the poor.  And by the time we get down to healthcare for the poor, we also have to include lawyers.  Medical Unions.  Employer-paid healthcare.  Etc.

It all reminds me of something Jesus told us.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

22:15-22 pp — Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26

Mt 22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Mt 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
Mt 22:21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Mt 22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

We’ve lost track of what is Caesar’s and what is God’s.

Truth is, every Christian should know that everything, literally everything, belongs to God.  As the Creator, everything is His.  Yes, God gives authority to others to care for certain things.  But we’ve gone farther than that.  

We’ve given to Caesar things that we were supposed to do ourselves.  Things like caring for the poor.  And that includes healthcare for the poor. 

Those of us who have jobs that pay for our healthcare, we’re covered, to varying degrees.  Once we reach 65, we get turned over to Medicare.  The government controls what we get and don’t get.  And if we don’t have either of those, there are various state and federal programs.  It’s all one type of “Caesar” or another.  

But does that absolve us of our responsibility to care for the poor?  Can we really get away with giving away something God wanted us to do ourselves?  Can we really give it to Caesar and then say, “it’s not my fault!”?  

That question is especially relevant when we live in a country where we get to vote on who decides things like what happens with healthcare for the poor.  

And that brings us to a question I often have to ask myself.  How is it that Christians appear to end up on what seems to be the wrong side of a political issue?  In this case, why are Christians supporting Republicans, who try to keep healthcare for the poor as minimal as possible?  And while that’s happening, it’s the allegedly anti-Christian Democrats who favor better healthcare for the poor?  How does that happen?

Conclusion – Should Christians be concerned about healthcare for the poor?

Yes – Christians should be concerned about healthcare for the poor.  

The thought is that God blesses us so we can bless others.  Just one instance of this is at the end of Hebrews.  

Concluding Exhortations

Heb 13:1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Heb 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”

Heb 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Heb 13:9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. 10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.
Heb 13:11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Heb 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Heb 13:18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
Heb 13:20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Heb 13:22 Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
Heb 13:23 I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
Heb 13:24 Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
Heb 13:25 Grace be with you all.

There’s a lot in there.  Most of it applies, at least indirectly to our topic.  But pay special attention to verse 16:

16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Share with others.  Because that pleases God.

Not because we get bigger tax deductions.  Not to bring glory to Caesar.  And not to bring glory to ourselves.

Maybe it’s not obvious to everyone, but that means sharing with people who have less.  Poor people.  

The messy part is that we’ve turned over healthcare to Caesar.  To the government.  To big companies.  And to lawyers.  So now, we can’t give to churches or even charities to cover much of the healthcare for the poor.  The government is in charge.  The recourse for us in this country is to vote for people who will put in place healthcare that does what we’ve chosen not to do.  To put in place healthcare for the poor that actually takes care of them.  And shouldn’t it be at least somewhat comparable to what we have?

For example, I have a friend on the state’s healthcare for poor people.  She broke a tooth.  So it was pulled.  No replacement though.  Most people who have employer-paid dental would get that tooth replaced.  But someone, somewhere, deemed that poor people don’t need to have their teeth replaced.  Is that taking care of the poor? 

And I’m talking someone that works two part-time jobs and still can’t afford decent healthcare.  

When we give to Caesar what God left for us to do, we get what Caesar’s willing to do.  And it’s not what God wanted us to do.  Think back to Hebrews 13:16.

16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Do we believe God is pleased with what we’ve done regarding healthcare for the poor?

Somehow, I don’t think so.  

 


Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay


 

References

1 Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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