Warren Carter is professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School and coauthor, with Amy-Jill Levine, of The New Testament: Methods and Meanings.

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Imperial Power Is Bad for Your Health

by Warren Carter 12-20-2017
The gospel, peopled with sick folks, mirrors the imperial world.

People wait to enter the Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise, VA, a place providing free medical care to the uninsured in Appalachia. Photo by Pete Marovich/American Reportage. 

ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE IS CONTROVERSIAL. Many people in the United States enjoy access to excellent health care, but high premiums and pre-existing conditions have eliminated coverage for others. Some politicians (privileged with extensive health-care coverage) have even made determined efforts to deny health-care access to nearly 30 million people. Their actions are like the response of elite allies and agents of Roman power to Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus healed people of various afflictions. What’s true today under American empire was also true under the Roman Empire: Acts of healing have political as well as spiritual ramifications. The attention that Matthew’s gospel gives to Jesus’ healings might point us to some best practices for health care today. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is always healing. The gospel alternates summaries of his general healing activity with details of specific healings. Matthew 4 sets up the frame: “Jesus went throughout Galilee ... proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them” (23-24). This summary is touched on eight other times in Matthew, surrounded by 14 individual healing scenes: a leper (8:1-4), a paralyzed slave (8:5-13), Peter’s fevered mother-in-law (8:14), two demoniacs (8:28-34), a paralyzed man (9:2-8), a woman with a hemorrhage (9:20-22), a dead girl (9:23-26), two blind men (9:27-31), a deaf man who cannot speak (9:32-34), a man with a withered hand (12:9-14), a demoniac who cannot see or speak (12:22-24), a demon-possessed girl (15:21-28), a “moon-struck” demon-possessed boy (17:14-20), and two blind men (20:29-34). What is the significance of these actions? What do they contribute to the gospel narrative of Jesus as the agent of God’s saving reign/empire?