Who would Je­sus in­sure?

Sto­ries of Bi­ble of­fer in­sights into health care

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Low­ell Gr­isham Low­ell Gr­isham is an Epis­co­pal priest who lives in Fayetteville. Email him at Low­ell@stpauls­fay.org.

What do we owe one an­other in so­ci­ety? How do we struc­ture our laws to pro­mote free­dom and jus­tice for all? When Je­sus was asked that ques­tion, he had a ready an­swer: “Love your neigh­bor as your­self.”

A lawyer then asked Je­sus to clar­ify the scope. Ex­actly who is my neigh­bor? The con­ven­tional an­swer was that a neigh­bor was a mem­ber of one’s fam­ily and those liv­ing within a short dis­tance; one’s fel­low vil­lagers at most. Je­sus an­swered with a story we call “The Good Samar­i­tan.”

Sa­mar­i­tans were his peo­ple’s enemies, def­i­nitely not neigh­bors. If the shadow of a Samar­i­tan crossed the path of one of Je­sus’ peo­ple, they be­lieved them­selves to be un­clean, in need of rit­ual cleans­ing. In Je­sus’ story, a stranger is robbed and beaten and left for dead by the road­side. A priest and a wor­ship as­sis­tant each ap­proached the scene, and each crossed to the other side of the road. That’s rea­son­able, a lis­tener would think. Con­tact with a corpse made one rit­u­ally un­clean. They didn’t want to risk de­file­ment.

But a Samar­i­tan, a de­spised for­eigner and heretic, tended to the in­jured stranger, took him to an inn for safe­keep­ing, and paid the cost, with prom­ises to cover what­ever else might be needed in the in­jured man’s re­cov­ery. Je­sus said this is what it means to be a neigh­bor.

It is an in­struc­tive story for our cur­rent de­bate about how our so­ci­ety should struc­ture its health care laws? What kind of poli­cies do we owe our neigh­bors?

A just pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to Je­sus’ val­ues, would be all in­clu­sive, eras­ing the bound­aries be­tween vil­lager and stranger, na­tive and for­eigner. A per­son in need is our neigh­bor.

A just pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to Je­sus’ val­ues, would give to the other per­son what we would want for our own care: a com­pas­sion­ate, lov­ing stan­dard of care.

I know we are not a Chris­tian na­tion. We up­hold the free­dom for any­one to prac­tice his own re­li­gion or no re­li­gion. But over 70 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say they are Chris­tian, and 93 per­cent of Congress iden­tify with the re­li­gion of Je­sus. And, in fact, the moral prin­ci­ple “love your neigh­bor as your­self” is a pretty uni­ver­sal eth­i­cal teach­ing. It is also a value that is con­sis­tent with the morals of our Founders and with the spirit of our Con­sti­tu­tion.

But we know health care is ex­pen­sive. It is one thing for a pros­per­ous Samar­i­tan to choose to use his re­sources com­pas­sion­ately. It is an­other for the govern­ment to use its force to im­pose taxes for the same pur­pose.

Je­sus has an­other story that of­fers a word of warn­ing. It is a story about a poor man named Lazarus who lived out­side the gates of an un­named wealthy man. Lazarus was ill and hun­gry. He longed for the scraps that fell from the rich man’s ta­ble. Je­sus imag­ines them both in an after­life that gives them the jus­tice they did not ex­pe­ri­ence on earth. Lazarus is com­forted in Abra­ham’s bo­som, but the rich man is in tor­ment in the fires of Hades. The rich man wishes he could send a warn­ing to his wealthy broth­ers. Abra­ham tells him that they know well enough. They can look to the law and the prophets. They just don’t.

Je­sus’ story is a pic­ture of Amer­ica. Poor Lazarus suf­fer­ing out­side the gates of the rich man is us (U.S.). Among 35 rel­a­tively ad­vanced na­tions in the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment, we are right at the bot­tom in com­bat­ing child poverty and to­tal poverty. Among the 11 most de­vel­oped na­tions, our health re­sults rank dead last. Lazarus is poor and ill in Amer­ica.

But the rich man is do­ing pretty well. In the past 35 years pay­check in­come for the top 1 per­cent rose 256 per­cent while wages for the bot­tom 90 per­cent have gained less than half of 1 per­cent per year. One per­cent of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies hold nearly half of the U.S. wealth in­vested in stocks and mu­tual funds. One wealthy house­hold out of 1,000 earns 76 per­cent of all U.S. in­come.

A health care bill that cuts poor peo­ple off Med­i­caid while giv­ing more tax breaks to the wealthy seems im­moral to me. It takes us in a di­rec­tion op­po­site what Je­sus teaches us.

Je­sus told the story of Lazarus and the rich man to change our be­hav­ior. He tells us to fol­low the ex­am­ple of the Good Samar­i­tan.

What would “love your neigh­bor as your­self ” look like in health care?

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