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Kill the. . .Huh?: Health Care Reform, Jesus, and the Sabbath

We have heard a lot of bizarre and dishonest arguments against health care reform in America during the last year.

But what follows, by two prominent self-described conservatives, reveals an ignorance of Biblical proportions. And this not only clear in the lies about the legislation, but it also lies rooted in a misunderstanding of the gospel of Jesus and the incarnation of God.

The Hill reports:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) isn’t happy that the House may vote for healthcare reform on Sunday.

Speaking on the Glenn Beck show, King said a vote on the Sabbath was sacreligious.

‘They intend to vote on the Sabbath, during Lent, to take away the liberty that we have right from God,’ he said.

Beck agreed.

‘Here is a group of people that have so perverted our faith and our hope and our charity, that is a — this is an affront to God,’ Beck said.

‘But I think it’s absolutely appropriate that these people are trying to put the nail in the coffin on our country on a Sunday — something our founders would have never, ever, ever done. Out of respect for God,’ Beck added.

Audio only

It is no wonder that some, like TIME‘s Amy Sullivan are wondering, Why do these conservatives hate Jesus?

Some folks really do miss the lessons of the gospel. They focus on questions over miracles or they try to turn it into a personal victory saga, but the morals for today are actually very clear when one reads the Bible aware of the eternal struggle for power and justice.

Jesus messed with the status quo. He reformed the health care system of his day, and he did it on the Sabbath. And this contributed to his murder by the conservative religious and political leaders of his day.

At least that is what the Gospels say, i.e., John 5.

He was in Jerusalem, in the part of the temple – the pool of Bethesda – that was a for-profit healing center. John 5 explains, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.”

According to the common faith-based story, an angel would randomly stir the water and whoever got in first would be healed. The losers would have to wait. (Sound familiar?)

This guy had been waiting a long time, perhaps, given that the text includes the years, he might have been there the longest. Clearly the current health care system was not working for him. (Perhaps that’s why Jesus reached out to him: If Jesus could help this guy, there was hope for all. Or maybe he was a symbol for how poorly the system worked.)

Verses six through nine continue the drama:

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath. . .

Jesus just reformed the health care system, told the guy to stop sinning, and actually made someone’s life better physically.

Despite the good, here comes the first century Glenn Beck and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in the next verses. They see this guy, apparently recognize him as an invalid, and instead of rejoicing in his relied suffering, they decide to enforce the Sabbath. They say:

It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.

After the man told the leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him, verses sixteen and seventeen explain:

For this reason the leaders were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.

But He answered them, ‘My Father has never stopped working, and that is why I keep on working.’

That’s beautiful and powerful. Aren’t we supposed to act like Jesus? What a great way to start each day: God is still working in the world and that’s why I do as well.

But all is not wonderful. In fact, that is the crux of the story in the story of Jesus. The following verses, which pin his death on this moment, reinforce the point. Jesus re-formed the system. This was something that the religio-political leaders thought that only God, as they conceived the divine as revealed in their texts, could do. But Jesus stood there bearing witness to a new paradigm: God in human form. Those who have ears to hear might reflect on some modern medical procedures that do things that were once only attributed to divine caprice that humans can now control. Jesus re-formed more than health care, he was re-forming our relationship to God and each other. And that’s why He was killed.

The next verse nails it down. From the Bible:

Now the leaders wanted to kill Jesus for two reasons. First, he had broken the law of the Sabbath. But even worse, he had said that God was his Father, which made him equal with God.

This is the point: Jesus, by saying He acted through God’s power to heal the man, undermined the power of the religious leaders. It was their domain. Saying who could receive grace and healing was where they got their power (and money) in society. When anyone works for social justice, structural change to our society to make it more egalitarian, they continue to the work of Jesus. And it’s dangerous. Note: Glenn Beck’s new crusade against Jim Wallis and churches that advocate social justice.

Note three things.

  1. The religio-political leaders of Jesus’ day called his health care reform blasphemy. Today they call it sacrilegious.
  2. Note in the statements by Glenn Beck he employs the word charity instead of love. Despite the beautiful language of the KJV, few folks say, faith, hope and charity. We say love. That is what 1 Corinthian 13 is about after all. Christians love. Charity is not about systematic reform. It is driven by noblesse oblige and guilt. Jesus didn’t represent either of those. And it should not be lost on those with ears to hear that the two men speaking are together, worth more than 99% of Americans – and that 99% of which we are a part is also where the 32 million folks who will finally have coverage exist as well.
  3. Glenn Beck employs language of death and just like those who killed Jesus, Beck rhetorically opposes health care reformers vs. God. Beck says:

    But I think it’s absolutely appropriate that these people are trying to put the nail in the coffin on our country on a Sunday — something our founders would have never, ever, ever done. Out of respect for God.

    Jesus healed one man who had not been helped by the existing system for thirty-eight years. Our current system has been moving along for about that long without major overhauls. Apparently the longer the time, the more dangerous the threat to those who base their power on the existing structure. And the more wild their threats.

The last I checked, the Sabbath was made for humans. But then Jesus said that as well, according to Matthew. And He reformed health care on the Sabbath. Of course there are all sorts of complications in the legislation, but the bottom line is that this will actually make tens of millions of lives healthier and more hopeful. And that’s what Jesus did.

Because something is what Jesus would do, it follows that the same opposition rises again and again, one rooted in what Reinhold Niebuhr noted years ago in Moral Man and Immoral Society:

Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold.

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