Jesus, the Chief Justice, and Justice: A Christian View of Obamacare
How might Christians have a conversation about Obamacare that isn't simply about political talking points and dueling statistics?
In Faithful Citizenship, I argued for the importance of identifying what we're really talking about when we talk about politics, and discussed how we might make ethical decisions from our Christian core, not our secular culture. We often reason from the standpoint of freedoms and liberties, important American ideals, but they're not necessarily preeminent for us as people of faith. While certainly we extrapolate an absolute value for each human being by the way Jesus loved and valued everyone, these rights and freedoms are book-ended for people of faith by responsibilities.
Liberty is always balanced, in the life of Jesus, against the needs of others, and his actions throughout the gospels show a continuing pattern: Jesus ministers to others; he goes up on a mountain alone or with close friends and takes care of himself; he comes back down and ministers to others; he takes—or tries to take—some time for himself. Jesus does have some boundaries—notice how he perceives when someone touches the hem of his garment seeking healing in Mark 5—but he also is on Earth intentionally doing selfless things on behalf of those who need his help: healing, feeding, teaching, casting out unclean spirits.
Taken together, these consistent actions of Jesus suggest a Christian attitude toward the issue of health care; if we take his life and teaching seriously, Jesus seems to indicate that healing and taking care of the needs of those who cannot take care of themselves are supreme Christian values. Jesus is a force of life and hope who empowers—and requires—his disciples to heal and feed and teach and restore people to their right selves. All of this argues that we may, as Christians, be called to uncomfortable places when we begin to serve our brothers and sisters, a place where our secular boundaries and values would call us to stop short.
The upcoming gospel lesson for July 22 in the Revised Common Lectionary is a familiar passage, one of the two great feedings in the Gospel of Mark:
As he went ashore, [Jesus] saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. (Mark 6: 34-44, NRSV)
Jesus takes compassion on the crowd, who are like lost sheep, but he calls on his disciples to bring that compassion to life. "You give them something to eat," he says (which, we imagine, is followed by: "You give them this food," and "You go and collect the leftovers").
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.