The Biblical Tradition Advocates Healthcare for All – Even for Enemies of the State

Readings for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 KGS 5: 14-17; PS 98: 1-4; 2 TM 2: 8-13; 1 THES 5:18; LK 17: 11-19

On October 4th, President Trump signed a proclamation denying visas to immigrants who can’t afford to purchase health insurance within 30 days of their arrival to the United States. The new restrictions are scheduled to be implemented on November 3. They will also exclude immigrants from subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

In its proclamation, the White House said it was taking this step to safeguard the health-care system for American citizens by preventing immigrants from enrolling in Medicaid or going to emergency rooms with no insurance, requiring hospitals or taxpayers to cover the cost.

“President Trump has taken action to promote immigrant self-sufficiency, which has long been a fundamental aspect of our immigration system,” the proclamation said.

In other words, (and listen for the irony here) the uber-rich president’s action is directed against poor people and is designed to save money for a revenue base recently depleted by tax breaks principally benefitting the richest people in the most affluent country in the world.

It’s simply another onslaught in Trump’s war of rich against poor.

Today’s liturgy of the word shows that the new proclamation is not only ironic, it also stands in sharp contradiction to the Judeo-Christian tradition and its emphasis on gratuitous healing.

I mean, this week’s readings seem providentially related to the issue of healthcare not only for resident aliens, but for explicit enemies of the state. The selections have two prophets (Elisha in the case of the Jewish Testament) and Jesus (in its Christian extension) curing foreign lepers. In Elisha’s case, the beneficiary of his cure is a general in an enemy army (Assyria) actually at war with Israel. That would be like Americans extending care to a notorious terrorist.  

Additionally, the readings connect with current debate about Medicare for All by suggesting the inappropriateness of charging money for healing which is understood as a gift from God. As such, the readings intimate, it should be available to all humans with no distinctions about race, class, or gender.

Please read the texts in question here. What follows is my own “translation” of their unusually coherent message about foreigners and healthcare.

 2 KGS 5: 14-17
 
During Assyria’s war on Israel,
Naaman, an enemy general,
Was cured of leprosy
By Israel’s prophet, Elisha.
The general offered
A valuable gift
In exchange.
But Elisha refused
To profit from
God’s healing.
Such salvation
Is as free as earth itself,
He implied.
It is entirely fungible
To entirely
Fungible people.
 
PS 98: 1-4
 
So, let’s sing
Of God’s healing (salvation).
On behalf of Israel
It manifests
God’s favor to non-Jews too
Causing the whole earth
To break out in song.
 
2 TM 2: 8-13
 
Jesus the Risen Christ
Endorsed Paul’s teaching
About the equality
Of Jews, Greeks,
Slaves and free,
Male and female
Prisoners and criminals.
Jesus identifies with all,
Paul said.
Every one of them
Is “chosen.”
God cannot deny
God’s generous Self.
 
1 THES 5:18
We are so grateful
For this wonderful teaching!
 
LK 17: 11-19
 
Like Elisha,
Jesus cured leprosy
This time
In a gang of 10 –
Including a Samaritan
An enemy of the people
Just like Naaman.
It was Healing
For nothing
Except for the outsider's
Singular word of thanks
Which healed him
Totally.
[No doubt
The ungrateful ones
Remained (partially) healed
As well.]

Not much needs to be added to the teachings so clearly embedded in today’s readings.

They’re about curing a culture’s most dreaded disease. They’re about foreigners and a divine dispensation that recognizes no one as somehow “foreign” or to be “shunned.” That’s true even if they represent a designated enemy of the state or adherents to a religion considered intrinsically evil by prevailing community standards.

As usual, then, and in other words, this week’s readings challenge our most cherished certainties. They call us to open ourselves to the poor, to foreigners, and even to those we’re taught to fear and hate.

They call us to denounce and resist Trumpian “proclamations” like the recent one punishing immigrants and refugees for their poverty and accidents of birth over which they have no control, but which especially endear them to the Author of Life.

Why Am I Here in India? (Sunday Homily)

Religion in India

Readings for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 KGS 5: 14-17; PS 98: 1-4; 2TM 2”8-13; LK 17: 11-19. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101313.cfm

My wife and I have been in India now for six weeks. Peggy’s working as a Fulbright researcher at the University of Mysore here in the country’s south. I’m here . . . I’m only now realizing why.

To tell the truth, I had come to India more or less reluctantly. I mean since retirement I had traveled a great deal including six months in Costa Rica, five months in South Africa, and now the prospect of 4 ½ months here in India. So perhaps understandably, I was feeling tired of living out of a suitcase.

I wondered then, why Life, why life’s circumstances had brought me here to what many consider the “Soul of the World” – an ancient culture with deep, deep spiritual roots?

I thought about that for a long time. Then I concluded that the opportunity here is absolutely golden for spiritual growth.

That’s why I’m here then, I concluded. Life is telling me I need to grow and break away from patterns of living and thought that have unconsciously become too comfortable and stifling.

And what resources there are in India for assisting in that project! There are spiritual masters here, teachers of meditation and yoga. (For example, Sunday I have an appointment with a Past Life Review teacher.)

In addition, Indian food (not my favorite) challenges me to adjust my palate. Cows walk the streets. Dress is different as well. Music too seems completely foreign (but delightful), as Peggy and I have discovered in attending a kind of “Indian Woodstock” festival of traditional Indian chanting, drumming, flute and violin playing during the two-week festival of the god Ganesh. And the traffic. . . . I’ve never seen anything as wild. No rules at all that I can see. I doubt if I could learn to drive here.

All of this is forcing me to expand my horizons and break away from what spiritual masters here call “samskaras” – habitual patterns of perceiving, thinking and living.

That’s what spiritual masters do for a living – they challenge old ways of thinking. It’s what the prophet Elisha did in this morning’s first reading, and what Jesus does in today’s gospel selection. Both readings reveal God’s love for those our cultural norms classify as strange and even evil.

Our first reading centralizes the prophet, Elisha, who worked in Samaria for 60 years in the 9th century BCE. That, of course, was a full 100 years or more before Samaritans emerged as Israel’s bête noir.

Nonetheless, it is true that Naaman may have been even more detestable to Elisha’s contemporaries than Samaritans eventually became to the Jews. That’s because Naaman was a captain in the army of the King of Aram who at the very time of the officer’s cure was attacking Elisha’s homeland. Elisha’s cure of Naaman would be like extending free healthcare to a known al-Qaeda “terrorist” today.

In other words, Naaman is a foreigner and an enemy of Elisha’s people. On top of that he’s a leper, which supposedly further marks him as an object of God’s disfavor. Despite all these disqualifications, the greatest prophet in Israel cures him.

The narrative’s point: there is indeed only one God, and that God loves everyone, even our designated enemies. That was a stretch for the people of Elisha’s time. It’s a stretch for us.

Still, the point is picked up in today’s responsorial psalm. Remember the refrain we sang together this morning: “The Lord has revealed to all the nations his saving power.” According to the psalmist, then, God is not tied to one land. God’s saving power is evident in every place on earth. As the psalmist put it, “All the ends of the earth have seen God’s salvation.”

God belongs to everyone. Everyone belongs to God.

By Jesus’ time, nearly 800 years after Naaman’s cure, Israel still wasn’t buying that message. In fact, they had narrowed God’s presence to particular locations within the land of Israel. Orthodox Jews believed God was present on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and could only be really worshipped in the Temple there. Samaritans, on the other hand, believed that the place to worship Yahweh was on Mt. Gerizim, where they said Abraham had nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac.

In other words, Samaritans embodied a sectarian battle among the descendants of Abraham over where to worship God – was it on the Temple Mount or on Mount Gerizim?

Jesus completely ignores the debate. He cures a Samaritan along with nine other lepers – presumably all Jews.

The story is simple: the lepers approach Jesus. He tells them to “show yourselves to the priests.” It’s not clear what Jesus had in mind. Some say there was a law requiring cured lepers to be certified by the priests. Others say Jesus’ intention was to confront the priests, to assert his identity (as his mentor, John the Baptist had done) as the people’s high priest.

In any case, the lepers leave in search of the priests, and on the way are cured. As we well know, only the Samaritan leper returns to thank Jesus. Why? Was it that the priests had persuaded the others not to return, since they were convinced that Jesus was possessed?

On the other hand, the priests would probably have refused to see the Samaritan, because of their deep prejudice.

So the Samaritan turns out to be the hero of the story, not the priests or those who listen to them. Just like Naaman, the one in the story most open to God was the character most alienated from reigning cultural norms.

And that brings me back to my opening point – to my hopes about India. Recently I was reading an article by an Indian scholar of religion who identified Jesus as an Indian yogi. The author suggested that the reason the priests and the people of Jesus’ time and culture could not understand him was that his approach to life and God was completely alien to them.

It was a mystical philosophy more akin to the Far East – to India – than to Middle Eastern Palestine. Put briefly Jesus’ mystical philosophy can be summarized in the words “Aham Sarvum! Sarvum Aham!” –“I AM ALL. ALL is ME.” In fact, Jesus’ basic approach can be summarized as follows:

1. There is a spark of the divine within every human being.
2. That spark can be realized, i.e. energize every aspect of our lives in the here and now.
3. It is the purpose of life to live from that place of divine presence.
4. Once we do so, we will recognize God’s presence in every human being and in all of creation.

Or as John the Evangelist has Jesus say:

1. “I am in the father, and the father in me.” [John 14.10]
2. “I am in my father, and ye in me, and I in you.” [John 14.20]
3. “I and my Father are One.” [John 10.30]

In other words, the guru (Jesus), the disciple, and God are all One. Separation of God and Her creation is nothing but illusion (MAYA). ALL IS ONE.

All of this confirms for me what I’ve learned from Eknath Easwaran, my Indian teacher of meditation over the last 15 years: at their summit all the world’s Great Religions come together in the mystical vision just articulated.

If all of this is true, what does all of this mean for us today? I think this at least:

• There are many ways to understand God.
• Sectarianism is foreign to the Divine Reality.
• God loves our mortal enemies and performs miracles on their behalf just as God did in the example of Naaman.
• More specifically, God loves al-Qaeda fighters and the ones we call “terrorists” just as much as (S)he does us. Our enemies represent God’s presence and so do we. We should treat them as though this were true.
• God loves those we classify as unclean, unworthy, ungodly, and untouchable.
• More specifically, God loves people with AIDS; God loves the foreigner, the outcast. They represent the presence of God and so do we. And because of our tendency to reject them, they are somehow closer to God than we are.
• It’s good to step outside the reach of our culture’s categories, at least once in a while.

When the Government Turns Criminal: Edward Snowden and the Good Samaritan (Sunday Homily)

Snowden

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT. 30: 10-14; Ps. 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 34, 36-37; Col. 1: 15-20; Lk. 10: 25-37. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071413.cfm

In his recent book about the parables of Jesus (The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus), John Dominic Crossan poses the question: What happens to your world when the “best” people act badly and only the “worst” do what is right?

That scenario seems to be playing itself out in the case of Edward Snowden.

Snowden, you recall, is the NSA contractor and CIA employee who last month disclosed a vast secret program of U.S. government spying on its own citizens and on individuals, corporations, and governments throughout the world.

The program (Prism by name) seems to violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Snowden made his disclosures three months after James Clapper, the Director of U.S. intelligence had denied its existence in testimony (under oath) before the Senate Committee overseeing the U.S. intelligence program. Snowden’s disclosures also followed hot on the heels of President Obama’s publically expressed concern that China was illegally spying on the U.S. in exactly the same way (though on a smaller scale) that the U.S. turns out to have been spying on China and its own allies.

For his troubles in exposing such lies, hypocrisy, and violations of the Constitution, Snowden himself has been designated a spy, traitor, and enemy of the United States – categories applied to its worst enemies. As a pariah in his own country, he has fled the United States and sought asylum in various countries including China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Snowden (and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International) alleges that if extradited to the U.S. he is unlikely to receive a fair trial, but instead to be tortured and indefinitely imprisoned like other whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning.

All of the countries just mentioned have histories less-than-friendly to U.S. interests, which they have each described as criminally imperialistic. Other “good” countries such as France and Germany have (under great pressure from the United States) refused Snowden asylum.

Meanwhile, James Clapper has not been charged with perjury, and President Obama has managed to deflect attention away from constitutional violations to the search for the fugitive Snowden.

In other words, the Snowden Affair presents us with a “Spy,” “Traitor,” and “Terrorist Sympathizer” obeying his conscience in his exposure of government crime. He has done the right thing. Meanwhile, the President of the United States, himself a constitutional lawyer, has been caught violating the Constitution, and the Director of Intelligence has been exposed as a perjurer. And on top of that, friendly countries often lauded by the United States as models of democracy refuse to respect International Law governing asylum seekers. Only the “bad countries” are willing to honor that law.

In this situation, the question Crossan posed earlier finds uncomfortable relevance: “What happens to your world if a story records that your “best” people act badly and only your “worst” person acts well?”

As I said, Crossan asks that question in the section of his book commenting on “The Good Samaritan” which is the focus of the gospel selection in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

The parable, of course, is very familiar. Almost all of us know it nearly by heart. Typically sermons find its point in simply calling us to be “follow the Samaritan’s example, treat everyone as your neighbor, and help those you find in trouble.”

That’s a good point, of course. But Jesus’ own intention went beyond simply providing an example of a good neighbor. More profoundly, it focused on the hypocrisy of “the good” and the virtues of designated enemies. As such, the story calls us to transcend those socially prescribed categories and look at actions rather than words of both the “good” and “bad.”

More specifically, the hero of Jesus’ story is a Samaritan. According hero status to such a person would be unthinkable for Jesus’ listeners. After all, Samaritans were social outcasts belonging to a group of renegade Jews who (by Jesus’ time) had been separated from the Jewish community for nearly 1000 years. They had also polluted the Jewish bloodline by intermarrying with the country’s Assyrian conquerors about 700 years earlier.

Jews considered Samaritans “unclean;” they were traitors, enemy-sympathizers, heretics and even atheists. They rejected Jewish understandings of Yahweh and the Temple worship that went along with it.

And yet in the story, Jesus finds the Samaritan to be more worthy, more pleasing in God’s eyes than the priest or Levite. That’s because the Samaritan’s actions speak much louder than the word “Samaritan” would allow. He is compassionate; so Jesus approves.

In the meantime, the priest and the Levite lack compassion. Their actions condemn them.

They say that slightly more than 50% of the American people think Edward Snowden is a traitor and spy. And this despite the fact that his accusers have advanced no evidence to that effect – and despite polls that indicate a solid majority believing that the government’s surveillance program is objectionable if not clearly unconstitutional.

Today’s parable invites us to reconsider – not just Snowden, but our very understanding of the world and its categories of “good” and “evil.”

Perhaps we’re looking for the real criminals, traitors, spies, and terrorists in exactly the wrong places.