“The spiritual gift of healing is not restricted to those in a specific economic category.” –Dr. Harold Dean Trulear
In my post earlier this week, “The Story Within the Story,” I reflected on Mark 5:21-43, the interwoven tales of healing for two “daughters” in God’s family, one the twelve year old child of the synagogue leader Jairus, the other a previously marginalized, unnamed woman who had suffered a debilitating flow of blood for twelve years. I focused particularly on the woman, how she suddenly becomes visible and in an act of faith draws power from Jesus, interrupting the established narrative and taking the entire story in a new direction. I marveled at her inspired access, her claim to a force for healing that would not be measured by privilege or restricted by price tag, as well as the remarkable impact she has on Jesus! At verse 21, the two daughters occupy vastly different social stations in society, one privileged and the other invisible. Yet by verse 43 their separate life stories have been joined closely in God’s loving reign and its emerging new order in the world.
On June 28th, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The PPACA , signed into law by President Obama in 2010, was designed to expand access to health care for millions of uninsured Americans ( The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will expand coverage for thirty million people). Among its features: there is a requirement for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions; it prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender; Medicaid availability is expanded; there are subsidies to support care for low income individuals and families ; there will be increased resources for Community Health Centers, along with training and placement for caregivers who will work in underserved rural settings; insurers participating in state-based exchanges will be required to cover a series of “essential benefits” including maternity care, mental health care, and pediatric care.
As everyone is aware, the Affordable Care Act has been an issue of great political contention ever since the effort was initiated. Opponents of the legislation, including the presumptive Republican nominee for President, are vowing if elected to repeal what they have labeled “Obamacare” in its entirety.
In his incisive essay at Urban Faith entitled “‘Obamacare’ Is About Access, Not Excess” (www.urbanfaith.com), Dr. Harold Dean Trulear frames health care access as a deeply spiritual issue,and sets forth a challenge for communities of faith. He reminds readers that scripture traces a nation’s well-being to its care for the poor, noting that arguments against the Affordable Care Act have failed to address the plight of the poor and infirm: “How to make health care accessible for those on the margins of society receives little attention from those who would dismantle “Obamacare.” Promises to repeal the legislation without offering a clear alternative for how we as a nation make health care available and accessible to all persons reduces “the least of these” to political pawns, whose lives represent fodder for a political machine designed to appeal to the self-interests of America’s middle class. “ His words are strong, and sorely needed!
Let’s look again at the “story within the story” in Mark 5. The gracious healing power of God, manifested through Jesus, is called upon by Jairus, a man of stature and position who nevertheless is experiencing powerlessness in the face of death’s claim on his daughter. Jesus responds to his anguished plea immediately and without question, following the path to his home with a large crowd following. But the existing narrative is interrupted by the woman who has had a “gushing of blood for twelve years,” who calls upon that same gracious, healing power. She has been marginalized, rendered untouchable, blamed for her own condition, denied the best care, ridiculed for assertions of dignity, and made responsible to run an impossible gauntlet in the slim hope of earning the belated recognition of others as being a full human. Yet she embodies the promise of relationship as she reaches out, receiving the care she needs without negotiation or justification,entrusting Jesus with the blessed truth of her God-given life. Her touch, and the connection between them, alter the social reality and spiritual landscape. When Jesus turns toward her,wanting to know who she is (with Jesus,”knowing” is never superficial!) the reaction of his own disciples is one of irritation and impatience. “There are more urgent priorities, Teacher.” But Jesus is not swayed; the new order is taking shape. Later, in the house of Jairus, the attitude of those gathered is one of cynicism when Jesus reveals that having made the last first does not mean that Jairus’ daughter will be deprived of God’s love. When Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe,” he speaks to all of us.
Paul Neuchterlein writes: “Jesus came not simply to bring healing to isolated individuals, like the two daughters in the wrap-around story. He came to heal the system which makes the families of human communities outsiders to one another, declaring some to be unclean and untouchable . . . The system was sick , on the verge of dying, just like Jairus’ daughter is sick. Jesus came to offer healing not only to the daughters but to the whole family of Israel, on the verge of death because it continued insider-outsider games of inequality, treating some daughters not as lesser but not even a daughter.” (www.girardianlectionary.net/year_b/proper_8b_2012_ser.htm)
The implications of the Markan narrative for our present context are clear. The priorities and assumptions of our traditional health care system have been interrupted. Millions of previously invisible, inconsequential children of God are being recognized, their worth affirmed, promised an increasingly gracious level of care that will not bring them to their knees in its cost. At the same time, there are loud, irritated objections to the rearranging of privilege from those conditioned by the prevailing order, and an insistence that the newly visible be made invisible again. There is, among all involved, a conscious or unconscious belief that grace is a matter of competition, with winners and losers. But what is emerging are the visible, tangible possibilities of a new order, even in our woefully broken and conflicted state.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an admittedly compromised piece of law. Rather than being comprehensive, it is pieced together in a way that reflects the arduously difficult process of crafting legislation that will ultimately be accepted by varied and competing interests. The lack of a “public option” was a deeply regrettable compromise that weakened the legislation. The individual mandate was offensive to supporters and opponents. And it is estimated that even when the provisions are fully operational, twenty million or more people may remain uncovered. Nevertheless, it is the first serious attempt to address the care and well-being of tens of millions of marginalized Americans. It is an important step at redressing a national shame. In recent years, trillions of dollars have been dedicated to the taking of life and the exercise of coercive power. Now, the slow bleeding of God’s beloved people can be stemmed even as the shadow of death is lifted from so many of our children. To embrace this willingly (at a level of deeper commitment and reoriented priority than the tempered “Obamacare effort”) will be to respond to God’s forgiveness by embracing the communal promise of new life.
Doc Trulear focuses a challenge to communities of faith: “While many decry the “intrusion of big government,” an unanswered question for those who have opposed healthcare reform is “how has the church mobilized on behalf of the sick and the poor?” Take a moment to consider the answer to his question, for you and for your congregation/community. Not just among those who have opposed the Affordable Care Act, but also those of us who have supported it. How have we mobilized on behalf of the sick and the poor? In a congregation like my own, we have people living vulnerably without health insurance among many of us blessed with more stable resources. Will our efforts at support extend further than prayer and verbal encouragement (as a friend used to say: ‘Put some legs in that prayer!’) ? Will we put our sweat and energy into lobbying for these commitments, regardless of our political party affiliations? Will we participate in substantial efforts to develop accessible, local resources and supports, announcing our faith communities as avenues of such healing? And will we trust Jesus with the whole truth of our lives as we cross boundaries or privilege and need between communities and risk the future of new relationships?
The reign of God is inclusive. God’s gracious power is not limited; if it was, it would cease to be grace! And if as people of faith we praise God for the marvels of medicine and possibilities for healing and wholeness in our lives, then recognizing them as manifestations of grace will necessarily expand our perceptions of who God intends them for! To commodify God’s gifts is to obscure God’s image. We may not be able to expect the whole of our nation and its political leaders to readily recognize these priorities. But as the followers of Jesus, our particular contributions are essential. Mark 5:21-43 reveals that the two daughters are kin in the family of God, deeply connected to one another, the wholeness of each realized in the mutuality of God’s loving order. In our story, to fail to appreciate that our human family will never be whole until all its sons and daughters are honored as fully human is a manifestation of unbelief.
“Do not fear,”Jesus says, “only believe.”