The infamous health care reform bill heads to the President’s desk today to be signed into law. I am saddened, but not because I am especially opposed to the bill. I am anxious, but not because I believe this is a sign of the government taking away our freedom. I am hurt, but not because Congress passed a bill that was the target of intense public opposition. I am disappointed because we Christians have not fulfilled our mission, and this bill is a glaring reminder of that fact.
Early in the ministry of Jesus, even John the Baptist was still unsure if the Christ had come. At the time, John was in prison, so we can understand his doubts and questions. He sent some of his students to Jesus to find out once and for all if He was “the one who is to come.” Jesus’ response is incredible:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
The proof of Messiah-ship, says Jesus, is in His ministry–He rescued the lame, blind, deaf, broken, poor, and dead. His reference is to Isaiah 61:1-2, a prophecy about the Christ that He also read to kick off His ministry in Luke 4:18-19:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Of course, we know that Jesus’ ministry was characterized by his compassion for the sick and oppressed. He divided His time fairly evenly between teaching people and healing people. He thought that helping the poor and physically afflicted was so important that He not only devoted vast amounts of His time helping people, He also pointed to this focus as the evidence that He was the Christ, that “the year of the Lord’s favor” had come, and that the long-awaited new era of God’s reign, the Kingdom, had broken into human history.
So, it should not surprise us that the early church adopted this focus as well. The apostles and other Christians had miraculous gifts that they used to heal diseases. (Acts 3:1f; 5:12-16) And the church as a whole was devoted to helping the poor and needy. (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37) They understood that their role, responsibility, and mission as disciples of Jesus was to continue the ministry He began, the ministry of rescuing people.
But, that is a mission that we disciples today have largely ignored. Bold and loving evangelism and sacrificial giving for those in physical distress were works that displayed the power of God in the early church, but are conspicuously lacking in many churches today.
And the health care reform bill emphasizes that fact. The Church should be helping the poor. The Church should be providing for the sick. The Church should be giving aid to those who cannot afford health insurance. But, we have not fulfilled our role, so the government has stepped in to make an attempt.
Jesus was extremely concerned about the spiritual and physical well-being of people. We, as the body of Christ in the world today, must have that same concern. A concern characterized by sacrificial, devoted, loving action. A concern that changed the world in Jesus’ day, and could do the same again today.