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Public Theology: All Are Healed
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All Are Healed
Jesus healed people, and didn't worry whether they were worthy. He just healed everyone he could, and accepted the legal structures of his time through which to do his work.

By Ed Knudson

All through the four biblical accounts of the life of Jesus he is healing people. It is a regular practice in his ministry. This means that his followers have a very strong biblical-theological warrant to be concerned about the bodily health of not only themselves but others. And one particular story, the cleansing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-18) demonstrates that Jesus was concerned for the health of not just some other people, not just those who deserve healing, not just those who qualify by some human standard, but for ALL people. Ten lepers come to Jesus seeking help and all are healed.

Reading this passage today can open us to the imperative to work for a universal health care system for all, following in the way and spirit of Jesus. Here is the passage:
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’

Notice that Jesus tells the healed lepers to "show themseves to the priests." This reveals the attitude of Jesus to governing authorities. It was the function of the priests to determine who was to be included in or excluded from the community. It was believed at the time that leprosy was spread through contact, so lepers were excluded and forced to live outside the boundaries of regular community. After they showed themselves to the priests to demonstrate the leprosy was gone the lepers would be restored to life in the community. Jesus accepted the normal functioning of the governing authorities of the time.

The passage also teaches something about the definition of health. It is not just a matter of healthy biological functioning. Illness causes persons to be separated from the normal life of the community. To be ill is to be excluded or isolated. Health is restoration to participation in the life of the community.

This passage is often used in preaching to attack the nine lepers who failed to turn back to thank Jesus for the healing. That emphasis fails to note that Jesus did, in fact, heal all ten in the first place, pointing to the overflowing grace of God for all. But the real shocker in the passage is that the one who turns back in thanksgiving is a "foreigner," a Samaritan. Jesus is talking to Judeans who at the time would have had great disdain for the Samariatans. Samaria was the region between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south where Jerusalem was located. Samaritans had fallen away from the Jewish faith and were intensely disliked by Judeans. So nine Judeans were healed and did not turn back in thanks, but the Samaritan acknowledged the gift he had received from Jesus. The words of Jesus in this story, spoken to Judeans, would have shocked them and caused them to think again about their social attitudes and hatreds. The excluded and hated Samaritan was lifted up as a model of faith by Jesus.

In todays terms, for example, it would be like Jesus telling the story to a group of Christians, but the one who turned back in thanksgiving was a Muslim. The life and teachings of Jesus regularly go against normal social conventions and open his followers to new ways to be and think about social relationships and who can be included in the life of the community.

In the current debate over health care too many who call themselves Christian are actually failing to follow the example of Jesus. They are so concerned that a universal health care system would mean that some who did not deserve health care would be included, such as undocumented workers (illegal aliens and foreigners they call them). These are the very people who have come to this country for work and who clean hotel rooms, build houses, wash dishes and do much of the work today that Americans refuse to do. Republican politicians, supported by conservative Christians, preach hatred and disdain for these workers and the idea that they would qualify for health care. They don't believe in universal access to health care for all. These folks should read more about Jesus, what he actually said and did, how he used his power to restore people to full participation in the life of the community.


A group of religious organizations called 40 Days for Health Reform has organized itself to support health care reform. It is led by PICO National Network, Sojourners, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Faith in Public Life, and Faithful America.

On Wednesday, August 19th, 5PM EDT the group is sponsoring a national call in and audio webcast on health care reform featuring from across the country and special guest President Barack Obama.

Sponsors include: National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; Progressive National Baptist Convention; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society; The Episcopal Church; Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Gamaliel Foundation; Faithful Reform in Health Care; Unitarian Universalist Association; African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME); The New Evangelicals; National Council of Churches in Christ; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; United Church of Christ; The Latino Leadership Circle; Christian Community Development Association; Islamic Society of North America; Washington Office of Women’s Divisions, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church; Jewish Women International; Islamic Medical Association of North America; Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office; Disciples Center for Public Witness; Disciples Justice Action Network; Catholics United; Faith in Public Life; Faithful America; PICO National Network; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Sojourners

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Date Added: 8/23/2009 Date Revised: 11/8/2009

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