The Common Good
December 2009

What Would Jesus Prescribe?

by Ed Spivey Jr. | December 2009

This being December, many of you are starting to go through closets finding raiment suitable for the children to wear in the upcoming church Christmas pageant.

This being December, many of you are starting to go through closets finding raiment suitable for the children to wear in the upcoming church Christmas pageant. Note that adult after-shower wear may not be suitable for a child posing as a shepherd who, during the performance, may break the monotony of standing perfectly still for an hour by rummaging through a pocket and submitting to public view whatever object lies within. Hopefully, it won’t be the hidden pack of cigarettes you don’t have any more because you quit, and are only keeping for a friend because he’s just so weak.

I mention smoking—even though Sojourners readers are too smart for cigarettes, or at least they would hide them in a better place, maybe in that old Jerusalem Bible that seemed such a good purchase before they actually tried to lug it to church on a regular basis—because smoking is the number one health concern in this country, followed closely by obesity, diabetes, and political intransigence. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be treated with diet and exercise, although screaming loudly at town-hall meetings is considered good cardio.

Scientists report that this uniquely American condition of intransigence comes from the one gene we share with the mule, an animal best known for stubbornly refusing to budge during legislative mark-ups. Sorry. I meant when plowing fields, a more productive exercise than the current attempts at reforming health care. At least with plowing fields you get food, which then you can eat too much of and eventually become a huge burden on our health system.

This anti-government stub-bornness appears to be coming mainly from Americans who already have health care, since I’m not seeing protest signs that tell the government to “STAY out of my pre-existing condition!” Polling shows that most people who are not sick are happy with their health insurance, and it’s only those who are sick that aren’t. In a show of solidarity, insurance companies are also happiest when their customers are not sick.

Despite this pleasant symmetry, the contentiousness of the health debate continues, pitting intrusive political forces against special-interest fiefdoms, while innocents caught in the crossfire are powerless to shape the outcome. It’s a quagmire, like Afghanistan, but with more warlords.

What's needed is some emotional breathing space—a cigarette break, if you will, or if you prefer, time to consume a giant plate of deep-fried funnel cake—so that we can patiently dissect this issue, preferably using Glenn Beck as our surgical specimen. As Christians, we should ask ourselves who would Jesus heal? The biblical record is clear.

Everybody.

Jesus did not discriminate or withhold care. He didn’t ask for co-pays or referrals. It was enough for him to know that the people were pre-existing.

Jesus was the first practitioner of the public option—he did most of his healing out in public (although where he washed his hands is not clear). He had this come-one-come-all approach to healing, despite the annoyed glares from his harried staff, who looked at their watches with frustration when the needy pressed forward. And can you blame them? They had to work hard separating the truly sick from those who just came for a check-up, and they probably did a little triage themselves. (“Yo, dude with the sores, we’re WAY behind schedule here, so would you mind coming back in the morning? And try not to scratch.”) To be fair, if Jesus’ disciples lacked empathy for the needy it was because they got free health care through their job.

Jesus’ only flaw, in the opinion of today’s medical practitioners, was his tendency to make spontaneous diagnoses. You may recall that Jesus restored a man’s ear that Peter, in a terrible PR move for the future head of the one true church, had cut off. Jesus did this without first ordering tests or X-rays. Nor did he isolate and sterilize the surgical field. He just fixed the guy and walked away. No billing. No follow-up, except for probably pulling Peter aside and cautioning him that jumping people and cutting off their ears is no way to get a basilica named after you.

But that’s how the Great Physician did things, even though he would have received a letter of reprimand from the HMO for which he worked.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners. His new book, A Hamster is Missing in Washington, D.C., is available at store.sojo.net.

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