The scripture we just heard said Jesus was curing every disease and every sickness. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus offers healing, even curing, because he had compassion and because the crowds were harassed and helpless.
Is he talking about spiritual healing? Yes, I think so. Might he also be talking about physical healing? Yes, I think that too. Why ? First, he tells his disciples to go out and cure every disease and every sickness. Secondly, this passage comes at the end of chapter nine in Matthew after Matthew has just told seven healing stories. Jesus heals a man with leprosy and restores him to community. Jesus then heals a Roman officer’s servant. (He heals a man who helps maintain the Roman Empire’s oppression of his people). Then he heals Peter’s Mother in Law, and ‘all the sick’ came to him. Then he healed two demon possessed men and a paralyzed one.
Then Matthew tells a story of two more healings:
Jesus was at a dinner party in someone’s home with an “interesting” bunch to say the least. Pharisees were there. They were the religious leaders within a particular political party who end up working with the priests to get Jesus executed. Obviously, they had power. Tax collectors were at dinner also. They were Jews who were working for the Roman Empire to collect Rome’s taxes and exhort money from their own people. Then Matthew says there were sinners of all sorts. The party guests are reclining after supper around the table and a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before Jesus, with horrible news, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’
A synagogue leader has just entered this room of powerful people bowed before Jesus (i.e. taken a worship stance) and declared his faith that Jesus can heal! No doubt, the others at the party take notice. In response, Jesus got up and followed this man out of the house leaving the party, and his disciples follow.
So they are walking at night down a narrow, dimly lit street off to the rich man’s house. Matthew’s audience hearing this story for the first time is eagerly waiting to find out if Jesus can offer the ultimate healing.
Suddenly, Matthew interrupts this story with another, “Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his cloak.” The woman dare not touch a Jewish male in public, but she risked reaching out thinking, ‘If I only touch the fringe of his garment, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned around. Did he feel the fringe of his coat tug a bit and thought it might have snagged on a shrub? Did he feel power surge out of him? He turns around and sees a woman, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.’
Then Matthew’s listeners return back to the first story about the synagogue leader’s dead daughter. “When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the mourners are there already he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. They laughed; they weren’t on the road just now to see that other woman healed. They must not have been part of all or any of all those other stories either, for they laugh. Jesus clears them out of the house. Then Jesus went in and took the daughter by the hand, and the girl got up.
A rich man’s daughter dies and a poor woman is healed. I called her ‘poor’, but Matthew doesn’t tell us that. When Luke tells this story, he adds another line that I think is important for us to hear. When Luke tells about this woman who has been bleeding for 12 years, he adds: “and though she has spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her.” This lady has gone bankrupt on health care, and she’s still sick.
All these stories Matthew tells remind us that we really are all in the same boat in some ways. Whether rich or poor – male and female – friend, family, or national enemy – humans get sick and we die. Sickness is universal (even if our health care isn’t).
Let’s look at our two patients in this story. This leader of the synagogue is before Jesus representing his daughter. He is a man of means. The bleeding woman is poor. The synagogue leader had enough political power to walk into a rich house and talk directly to Jesus. The woman would not have made it past the butler. Had there been health insurance cards in the first century, the man would have carried a platinum one while the bleeding woman who went bankrupt on her health care attempts would have had none.
Who did Jesus heal? Everyone. Both. All of them. Rich and poor. Powerful and powerless. Jew and Roman soldier. Oppressed and oppressor.
Jesus also rebuked a system that offered preferential treatment for those like the well to do man who had power, status, and money. He recognized the universality of pain and suffering, and thus he desired to heal both the woman and the man’s daughter.
That was two thousand years ago. In spite of all our progress and advancement, we still have disease and illness. We have disease in our bodies that is physical. We have an illness in our system that is political and profitable for some. What’s really sick is that we live in a system that allows some people to get rich as a direct result of someone else being sick.
I’m not talking about doctors and nurses and physical therapist and hospital workers earning a decent living for the life-giving work that they do or the investment they have made in their training. I’m talking about someone like the CEO of United Healthcare making $66 million dollars a year- not company profit – personal income.1 This one caught my attention because our staff is on United Healthcare. I paid nearly $14,000 in premiums last year for health insurance. They argued about paying a $60 lab bill of mine while their CEO pocketed $66 million dollars!
Health care costs in the U.S. have grown at a rate five times that of the gross national product (GNP). Sixty-two percent of bankruptcies are caused by or are related to medical bills. Drug prices in the U.S are, on average, fifty percent higher than in other developed nations. Patients are literally dying under the cost of medical treatment while the private, for-profit health insurance companies distribute more than $12 billion a year to shareholders.2
Some people are getting rich because others are getting cancer. There’s something just not right about that.
Jesus, however, saw things differently. Jesus valued all human life as sacred to God, and he extended healing and wholeness to both the woman and the daughter and all the rest. In stopping to heal the unnamed woman instead of proceeding straightaway to the important man’s house uninterrupted, he stopped to affirm the value of someone who others perceived as an insignificant poor woman.
The test of faithfulness to Jesus is always in how we treat the vulnerable of society. If we are to bear authentic witness to Jesus as the healer, and to God as the giver of life, then we must embrace the value and dignity of all human beings, but especially the vulnerable of our world. In our American society, perhaps there is no greater population that is more vulnerable than those who do not have access to good and affordable health care.3
Jesus addressed issues of physical and system healing 2,000 years ago.
Will we do likewise?
In 2010, the country took a step towards that with the Affordable Care Act. It’s not perfect; no one claims it to be. There were lots of concessions made to get it passed and lots of situations that it didn’t address, but it is a step. Now there are 11 million Americans enrolled in this health care plan, yet there are politicians who campaign on a platform to repeal it because their particular political party didn’t sponsor it.
There’s also this thing called “the gap”. It’s not a store in the mall. It refers to those people who make too little to afford health care insurance, yet make too much to qualify for Medicaid. The working poor fall into a health care “coverage gap.” Last Sunday’s OWH said 100,000 low-income Nebraskans could be insured providing preventative health care and treatment for illnesses and critical events, if we close the gap. The paper also noted that rural hospitals are closing in Nebraska and across the country, mostly in states that did not expand Medicaid coverage. You see, there is a bridge to close this gap, but nineteen states refused the federal money that would have funded 95% of the expansion costs. An interesting statistic to note is that in those nineteen states that didn’t close the gap seventeen are led by Republican governors. The other two governors pushed for it, but Republican state legislative bodies did not enact it. I am not saying here that all Republicans are bad or that all Democrats are good, or anything like that. What I’m saying is whether or not low-income people can get health care should not depend upon the political party of the Governor of their state who puts partisan allegiance to a higher standard than taking care of the basic health of the people. Harassed and helpless crowds need a different kind of leader than that!
Our Heath Care in this country is in a mess because of for-profit institutions and corporations are increasing bottom profit line at an astounding rate and because of partisan politicians who won’t set aside differences to show compassion to the helpless.
Jesus offers healing because he had compassion for the crowds who were harassed and helpless. Matthew’s text says, “‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Usually, I’ve heard that line in context of Christians going out to convert lost souls to Christianity. In actuality, Jesus speaks it in a context of compassionate healing. Jesus’ followers are charged with going out and engaging in the work of healing for there is much to be done.
As followers of Jesus, we are those disciples to have compassion on the harassed and helpless. We are the disciples who are to work for systemic change in our health care, and we are the disciples who are to elect leaders who will see the helpless crowds and respond with Compassion.
May it be so.
1 Star Trubuine strib.mn/1CmhiYX
2 Time magazine. “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” March 4, 2013.
3 Drew Smith, ethicsdaily.com. “How Would Jesus Handle Healthcare?”