Who Would Jesus Heal?Featured, The Remedy — By Sarah Thebarge on October 8, 2009 at 12:00 am
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In 1886, the sonnet was read at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. A plaque with this inscription was to have been mounted on the pedestal for the Statue’s unveiling, but this detail was overlooked and no plaque was made.
Emma Lazarus died of lymphoma the following year. One of her friends took up the cause to have the poem engraved on the Statue, and in 1903 it happened: an engraving was mounted in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue and its silent summons became familiar and comforting to the immigrants sacrificing all they had to accept Lady Liberty’s open invitation.
I was thinking about this poem the other day, in the context of the vitriolic dialogue our country has been having about health insurance. I thought of the heated words that have been expressed about extending health insurance to the uninsured, and, even worse, to the illegals.
I thought of these people who embody Emma Lazurus’s words. Many uninsured Americans, and most illegal immigrants, fulfill the criteria listed on the Statue.
Tired? More like exhausted. Poor? Yes. Destitute, even. Huddled masses? I thought of the immigrants who’ve suffocated in crowded trucks on the long journey from Mexico to the U.S. border. Yes, huddled. Yearning to breathe free? Check. (Suffocating in cargo holds of ships and wheel wells of airplanes probably constitutes yearning to breathe.) Wretched refuse? To some, yes. Homeless? Uh-huh. Tempest-tost? I thought about the people drowning on homemade rafts en route from Cuba to Miami. Yes, tempest-tost.
And yet, we do not stand with Liberty at the mouth of the harbor and invite them to find refuge on our shores.
We tell them to get jobs, but we won’t give them working papers. We tell them to feed themselves, but even those who are working don’t get paid enough to buy basic necessities like food – let alone luxuries like health insurance. We arrest them for sleeping on our streets, but God forbid they should try to move into the house next door. We purport to welcome the world to our shores, but not if they have communicable diseases or speak Spanish. We’ll let them sew our clothes and scrub our toilets and change our oil and add fries to our Value Meals while we’re busy building our capitalistic empire, but they’d better not take one single cent from the money we make standing on their backs.
It seems to me if the poor among us took America to court, they’d have a strong case for a successful class-action lawsuit. All they’d have to do is point to the invitation on the Statue of Liberty and argue that it’s false advertisement. And they’d be right. So far, we’re all talk, and mournfully little action.
As I’ve followed the recent healthcare discussion, I’ve been most interested in how Christians enter into the debate. Various sides contend to have the answer to the question, “Who Would Jesus Heal?”
Granted, the question is a bit contrived, because Jesus didn’t need health insurance policies or medicine or hospitals to make people well. He just did it. With a touch of His hand, with a word from His mouth, with the strength from His robe, He healed the sick.
But His ascension left us in a lurch, and now we have to figure out how we as Christians, who claim to be the tangible presence of Jesus on the earth, should handle this critical issue.
One side of the aisle argues Jesus would support a privatized system where health insurance is synonymous with employment. Capitalism, with its privately-run companies, is the only and obvious way to run a country, they say. The other side of the aisle argues Jesus would support a government-sponsored healthcare system because it does the most good for the most people.
Both sides can point to examples and verses from the Bible to support their positions. (Although it seems to me both arguments have their fair share of holes.) And yet we argue on, playing tug-of-war with Jesus, intent on proving whose side He’s on.
But if our behavior as Americans disappoints the Lady of Liberty who stands in the harbor with a torch in her hand, surely our conduct as Christians devastates the Man of Sorrows, who stretched out his arms on a cross and invited a world of lost and hungry sinners to come to Him.
We may not be able to clearly conclude from the Bible whether Jesus would favor universal health care for Americans or not. But what we know for certain is whose side Jesus is on: not the Republicans or the Democrats or even the Independents, but the orphans and the widows and the hungry and the weary and the sick and the lost.
It seems to me that while we are busy shouting at each other from opposite sides of the aisle, Jesus is in the middle, sitting with the huddled, tired masses dying on the floor.