Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Parable about Healthcare in the United States

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney holds a copy of the 2018 budget proposal.
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 
. . . . “Stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Mark 2:1-5, 11-12

This story is a wonderful parable about some of the key issues in the current debate about healthcare in the United States.

But I need to begin with a footnote.

The healing stories in the Gospels are always problematic texts for preaching, because all of us know people who have not been healed. At least, not in the way that they would wish. 

And it is important that Christians never, never burden those who are already suffering with the notion that if they had more faith they would, in fact, be healed. The healing power of God must always remain a mystery. And the forms of God’s healing must also be a mystery. But in spite of that caution, these stories speak to us in a profound way about our need for healing and about God’s vision for our lives.

In those days, in Palestine, houses were often made with a mud and thatch roof. Sometimes they were built into the side of a hill, so that you could actually around he side of the hill and up on top of the roof. And that’s what they did. When they couldn’t get in through the door, they went around the side and up the hill onto the roof. Then they set their friend down and began digging through the thatch and the mud.

The scripture says, “He was teaching them the word,” which probably means he was teaching Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses). 

Suddenly, things begin to fall from the roof. 

Things begin to fall. First dirt and dust sifts down. Pretty soon Jesus can’t even tell his story. Everyone is looking up at the roof, and by now large chunks of things are falling on them. People scramble and cover their heads. And then the roof opens up. 

Jesus looks up there where there are these four guys looking down, probably pretty proud of themselves. What a great opportunity! They have been able to engage in an act of vandalism and do a good deed, a mizpah, at the same time. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

Before Jesus can say anything, the four guys are lowering a fifth guy down into the house right in front of Jesus. They lean down as far as they can, and then pass him to those in the house.

Jesus is amazed at what he sees. Mark observes, “When he saw their faith . . . .” Not the faith of the paralyzed man. He is marveling at the faith of the four guys who carried him through town and ripped up the roof. 

What a risk they took! 

“When he saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” 

Somehow, Jesus understands that what is paralyzing this man is an overwhelming sense of guilt. There may be fear also, but guilt apparently plays a major role. He is so scared and so guilty, that he cannot even move. Jesus understands that the only way for the man to be healed is for him to feel a sense of grace and forgiveness. 

Jesus turns to the paralyzed man and says, “Take up your mat and walk!”

The man stands up. And takes his mat. And walks out of the house. People are in shock. The crow gathered around the house saw the man carried up onto the roof, and now they see him walking out the door. They are excited and amazed, and they shout, “We never saw anything like this!” Which is the only proper response to the church in action. 

When the church is really the church, when we are really being the people God has called us to be, the only proper response is, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” It is always amazing to believers and non-believers alike. 

In terms of the current healthcare debate, the story makes at least three important points.

First, when people can’t walk, we need to carry them.

The basic theory of health insurance is that the healthy people carry the sick people. And when we are dealing with serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease, where the costs of treatment are measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars, we need a lot more than four healthy people to carry one sick one.

The proposed American Healthcare Act, says that healthy people should not have to carry sick people, at least they should not have to carry as many or carry them as far. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 23 million people would lose their health insurance under the AHCA.

In a Sunday editorial, The New York Times describes it this way:
“Consider the fate of Medicaid, a program that provides health insurance to more than 74 million people, among them 60 percent of nursing home residents and millions of people with disabilities. Trumpcare would slash Medicaid spending by $834 billion over 10 years, according to the C.B.O. The president’s budget would take a further $610 billion from the program under the pretext of reforming it. Taken together, this amounts to an estimated 45 percent reduction by 2026 compared with current law, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says.”
Second, some people cannot be healed unless we carry them.

Jesus’ first response is not to the paralyzed man but to the guys who are carrying them. It is their faith that moves him to bless the paralytic.

If they had not carried him, he would not be healed.

The Times observes that the proposed AHCA, “would make it impossible for millions of people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes to buy health insurance. That’s because the law would let states waive many of the requirements in the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law known as Obamacare. It would also greatly increase the cost of insurance policies for older and poorer people, no matter where they live. By way of illustration, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 a year and living in a state not seeking waivers would have to pay $16,100 a year for coverage, nearly 10 times as much as she would under Obamacare.”

We can debate the exact numbers, but we know that without health insurance thousands of  people will die sooner and a much larger group will have their quality of life reduced dramatically.

And this will be done in order to reduce the burden on those who are healthiest and wealthiest. The healthy and the wealthy will not have to carry as many poor people.

The third point is counter intuitive.

In the parable of the paralyzed man the happiest and healthiest people are the four guys carrying their friend. Human beings are happiest when they are helping others.

To be fair, the four guys are probably happy about more than helping a friend. They get to parade him through the village against his will, and they get to rip up a roof and terrorize the people inside the house, and be praised for it. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The theory behind the AHCA and the budget being proposed to congress is that the happiness of the wealthy and the healthy can best be achieved by doing less for others and keeping more for ourselves. As the Times editorializes:
“Apart from inflicting hardship, what would Trumpcare and the president’s budget achieve? Mainly a windfall for wealthy families. The administration has not provided enough information to make good estimates, so it’s hard to say how much the rich would gain from the budget, although it would be a lot. We know more about Trumpcare. The Tax Policy Center estimates that almost all of the tax cuts in that legislation would flow to the rich: The top 1 percent would take home an average of $37,200 a year, while people with middle-class incomes would get a measly $300.”
Maybe Jesus is wrong. Maybe what really makes us happiest is having more money and doing less for others.

But I don’t believe that’s who we really want to be as individuals or as a country.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.


  1. Very well said. This explanation speaks volumes. Let's pray that those who need to hear it, do. Thank you so much for this!

  2. This is the true collective spirit of the out people. In the US ee are bombarded by messages that tell us that our own needs are more important. One Love

  3. This is the true collective spirit of the out people. In the US ee are bombarded by messages that tell us that our own needs are more important. One Love