The theologian Karl Barth said you should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I like that idea. If you consider our scripture this week in light of some of the newspaper headlines, especially that of the healthcare debate that this nation has been through in the past year, it takes on an entirely new light.
As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Several of the disciples went over and said, "Be quiet and wait your turn. Can't you see there's a crowd waiting to see the Messiah?"
As Bartimaeus paused in silence, he felt a clipboard being thrust into his hands.
"Now," said John, one of the bossier of the disciples, "fill out the following thirteen forms. We need name, address, social security number, next of kin, and whether you have an HMO, PPO, or POS. Please indicate whether you have additional vision and/or dental coverage. Check the box on page five if this is a work related injury. Fill out the duplicate form if you have any secondary insurance, and read and sign the privacy statement at the end and return it to me with your insurance card."
Bartimaeus paused, "I can't read...I'm blind."
"Well then," said John in a huff, "just give me your insurance card and we'll try to get you in the cue anyway."
Bartimaeus shook his head in shame, mumbling something under his breath.
"What did you say?" John demanded.
"I'm uninsured," Bartimaeus said quietly, his eyes averted.
"I still can't understand you!" blurted John.
"I-AM-UNINSURED!" yelled Bartimaeus.
A gasp came from the disciples. "Uninsured!!??" they said looking at each other with disgust...and the crowd began to back away from Bartimaeus.
"Do you have cash?" John demanded?
"No," said Bartimaeus.
"Do you have a credit card?"
"Do you have a job?"
"Well," snapped John, "then you're just gonna have to find another messiah."
Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Jesus heard the man, stopped what he was doing and said, "Who is that? Call him here."
And they called to the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, you've apparently been pre-qualified."
So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" Bartimaeus said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately, Bartimaeus regained his sight.
And as he left, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, "Under no circumstances is this man to be charged a co-pay."
It makes you wonder if ole Bartimaeus would be able to get help today in 2010. As a blind, beggar, I'm thinking no. There are 46 million uninsured people in this country. Forty-six million--a disproportionate number of which are low income and impoverished. So, no. I'm afraid ole Bartimaeus would be out of luck.
Yet, over and over we are given the biblical mandate to care for the sick, care for the downtrodden, care for the poor.
Jeremiah, chapter 30, verse 17, shows us that we have a God who heals: "Thus says the lord, I will restore you to health and heal your wounds."
Galatians 6:2 urges us to "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
In Matthew 10:7, Jesus offers important directions to the disciples (and to us). He says, "As ye go, proclaim the good news, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers...freely give as you have received."
And who, of course, who could forget the story in Luke of the Good Samaritan. There a man leaving Jerusalem was robbed and beaten and no one, not the priest nor the Levite, would stop and help him. Then a Samaritan comes along who not only stops, but takes care of the man, dresses his wounds and pays for his care. And what does Jesus say at the end of this story? He turns to his disciples and says, "Go and do likewise."
Go and do likewise? Right.
Here we are living in a country where people have to choose between food and medicine, where people are dying because they can't afford surgery.
This is a country where people can get insurance for their pets more readily than human beings! I'm not kidding. I looked up Aetna--my insurance company's web site--and sure enough, there's a link for pets. It reads: "Your pet is part of the family. And like other family members, your pet has needs. Pet insurance helps you manage this rising cost of treating your pet's illness and injuries. No pet is too old for coverage."
Yeah, I think there's a problem.
So what do we do about it? Well, I'm not sure anyone knows at this point. In fact, at this point, I think many of us wonder if we can do this at all. We're so bogged down in all the politics and maneuvering. You have to wonder, after all the years of talk and arguing and wrangling...is this even still possible?
I think so many times things in life we get jaded and skeptical. We lose hope. Whether it is getting healthcare legislation through or simply finding a job, we lose hope because things seem impossible. Yet, anything is possible.
Let me share a story with you. Here is an AP news release from Duluth, Minnesota. The headline reads: "Man guilty of DWI in Lazy Boy." The article goes on to explain that a Minnesota man pleaded guilty to riding his motorized Lazy Boy chair while intoxicated. After leaving a local bar, he got in his chair and promptly crashed into a parked vehicle. Police said the chair was powered by a converted lawn mower engine and had a stereo and cup holder. He was sentenced to six months of community service.
Yes, my friends, anything is possible in this world. Anything.
Even with the healthcare plan, we know it is possible. The Canadians have done it, the UK has done it, the Scandinavians have done it.
But you know who else has put together a pretty good healthcare plan? One we might seriously consider as a prototype for our own? God.
God has a great plan. God has the best healthcare plan going. It covers everything: physical, mental, spiritual healing.
It's very affordable. In fact, it's free. There's not even a deductible.
There are no complicated forms or approval process. It's an OPT OUT plan. You are given the plan at birth and you keep all your life, unless you yourself decide you don't want it (and even then you're still covered).
There are no pre-existing conditions; it is comes to you as you are no matter how wounded or broken.
Most importantly, this plan is offered to everyone--from every walk of life--from every economic status--from every religion and culture.
This plan IS the true universal healthcare plan. That's the one we should be working towards.
Now, I obviously can't solve the healthcare crisis in a 15-minute sermon. My message today is more about the lens, the paradigm, with which we approach this issue of caring for each other. When you take an issue out of your head, out of the intellectual side, and put it in your heart, the perspective changes.
This is not an issue involving statistics. This is an issue involving human beings. The world is full of folks like Bartimaeus, people, who for no fault of their own, are unable to access basic rights and services in this country, human beings who are in pain.
The healthcare crisis in this country is not just some intellectual Rubic's cube for us to chew on. It is an issue of the heart. It is an ethical mandate to:
To heal the sick;
To bear each other's burden;
To love our neighbor as our self.
Karl Barth was right. When we overlay a biblical, ethical perspective on modern-day problems, we begin to see each other as God sees us. Compassion and mercy become part of the conversation. That's the point we begin to transcend all of the red tape and greed and politics and fear and move slowly but surely to the TRUE universal healthcare that all God's children deserve.
Let us pray. God of love, open our hearts to receive your compassion and mercy so that we might go out into the world and do your work, the work of healing the sick, caring for the downtrodden, bearing each other's burdens. Let Bartimaeus be a wakeup call for our minds, our hearts and, most of all, our nation. Amen.