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The Legislation of Jesus: Functional Health Care Reform

African American news and commentary on healthcareOn Sunday, March 21st, the United State House of Representatives voted to pass health care reform thus affording millions of medically uninsured Americans the opportunity to in fact secure basic health care. This historical legislative act is an attempt for America to become a more civil society (with regard to 'the sick and poor among us') - similar to most other first world and some third world nations like Cuba, Canada and parts of Western Europe.

Despite the significance of such a legislative passage, bipartisan dispute continues. Largely supported by political Democrats, the uninsured and sympathetic others, Republicans and some privileged few argue that such a reform will bankrupt America in variant ways; in essence, the privileged among us are helping to fund such a system thus enacting a structure that resembles an ecclesial society similar to what is found in the New Testament book of Acts (chapter 2).

Here the notion of 'being our brother's/sister's keeper' is suggested. Contention over this legislative act has sparked volatile tension and a curious sense of narcissism: seemingly ordinary citizens (protesters) have thus reacted with a sense of barbarism, hurling racial slurs and other derogatory epithets at members of congress. Reports of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Montana being spat upon by angry protesters have surfaced. Likewise, Congressmen John Lewis of Georgia and James Clyburn of South Carolina were heckled and called 'Nigger' as they exited the house chambers.

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. (Matthew 27:20-30, NRSV)

Similar to modern America, the late Second Temple Judaic period (the period which Jesus lived and ministered) was one that was as diverse, volatile and politically contentious as today. Under Roman rule, heterogeneity with regard to philosophical thought and religious sentiments set the backdrop of first century Palestine. In Palestine, the Israelites maintained a sense of religious Judaic tradition. As an imperial province, new ideas were viewed with suspicion especially if it challenged traditional thought and the status quo.

Although Judaism by no means was a unified monolith, certain fundamentals were foundational (the function of the Temple, observance of the Mosaic Law or Torah, embracing monotheism, and the expectation of a prophesied Messiah). As a result of tradition and the law, many in the society, especially the sick, were prohibited full inclusion in social-civil-religious life; this led to legal disenfranchisement and marginalization. As recorded in the New Testament gospels, Jesus both lived and functioned in this type society. Throughout the gospels, he went about engaging and healing many who were sick. Jewish purification laws first outlined in the Pentateuch set social-civil-religious policy against persons considered impure: the leper, those with bodily discharge, the lame and even the Gentiles. The acts of Jesus were contrary to the current policy.

In Mark 5, Jesus engages with a demon possessed man (who dwelled among corpses), was touched by a woman considered impure with bodily discharge, and touched the corpse of a young boy. In all three cases, Jesus enacted legislative healthcare (healing that went contrary to current policy) thus restoring these individuals back to full participation in the society.
Alongside his declaration as being incarnate, as a result of his universal healthcare plan (summed up latter in the epistle of James), he was persecuted, spat upon and mocked (see above passage). James 5:14-16 sums up the healthcare plan that Jesus enacted:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (NRSV)

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Director of J.D.Institute and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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