Justice in the Waiting Room
By Erina K. Ludwig
April 30, 2012
A few years back, when I lived in Nashville, I went with a friend to a low-income neighborhood clinic. The idea of the clinic was to provide people with medical care at low or no cost. Some had Medicaid, while others had Medicare, but for others this one trip would mean the difference between how many and what kinds of meals their entire family would have for the rest of the month. It would mean the difference between paying all the bills or choosing the most important ones.
Out of around 330 million Americans, forty-six million of them will sit in clinics like these waiting for care. They’ll wait there because insurance companies can refuse them for their pre-existing conditions or navigate sophisticated hidden clauses that protect them from paying out when help is needed. And I wonder how we have gotten to the point that we will need to try to avoid helping the very least of these. How we’ll label them as lazy and uncommitted to finding work and declare, as some self-proclaimed Christian politicians have, that “people shouldn’t get something for nothing.” But I see that they’re missing the point and missing God’s method of dealing with people, with life and with justice.
But Jesus’ sacrifice was the epitome of something for nothing. It was everything for nothing. When he died, he pleaded that we would be forgiven in exchange for his life. When he lived he asked us to take care of the least of these. He spoke of being naked and someone clothing him. He spoke of being sick and someone looking after him. He spoke of being a prisoner and someone visiting him. And mostly, he told us when we did this, we were really doing it for him.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine Jesus as anything other than one standing in glowing robes, offering benediction, and being the champion of the victors. Yet, for most of his life, Jesus was with the outcasts and the downtrodden. Today he would be with the morbidly obese, the crack addict and the person dying from AIDS. When he tells us when we do these things we’re doing it for him, maybe he’s reminding us of their bottomless worth. True justice does not mean helping and then asking, What will I get in return? This justice wants us to see others healthy, not because of a heavenly reward but because they were made in God’s image. They look like him, just as we all do.
“True justice does not mean helping and then asking, What will I get in return?”
God’s love was not just a spiritual, mystical experience that filled rooms with sweet fragrances and skies with clouds by day and fires by night. It was living and breathing, from Jesus, who touched decomposing skin, to the apostles, who went through streets and prayed for the sick (see Acts 5:12-16). Life for the apostles was tough. Not only were there natural illnesses and ailments going around; they were being hounded by Rome, beaten and executed for spreading God’s message. Nevertheless, they still sought to love and to give. They turned God’s love for and commitment to them into an offering for others.In Acts we learn that the apostles pooled their resources together so that no one would be without, no one would be lacking or without care. Undoubtedly some early Christians were richer than others and probably gave more, but they didn’t see it as an injustice; rather, they were happy to be able to show others how Christ’s love took care of everyone. The apostles weren’t trying to be political or take sides in sharing their goods; they were simply exercising a needed human economy.
We spent $2.3 trillion on health care in 2008, and yet some people struggled with diseases that ate away at their nervous systems and muscles because they couldn’t afford a $200 blood test that would have determined if they had Huntington’s disease. We spent $41 billion on our pets, while others halved their diabetes medication to lower their bills even though they were left bedridden in the end. I love animals, especially dogs. Animals need our care too and need to be treated with kindness. But when we can spend billions on them while people suffer from life threatening diseases, I wonder at the balance of things and I wonder at our priorities.
Our reality is that some of us have more than enough and are free to do what we please with our excess. Others are managing to exist inside what was marked out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age and other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
We all have the right to an adequate standard of living, but that isn’t what we witness around the world. The question of how we choose to solve this is left open to us. . . .
The human body is a work of art. It’s everything like the psalmist says: “it is fearfully and wonderfully made.” Every part of it is so intentional, from the tips of our tongues, which like our fingerprints have a unique mark, to our noses, which can recognize 50,000 scents.
Some of the needs we encounter are so deep and urgent and yet full of complexities that jostle our idea of what is right living and what is wrong. Some of those needs may be terminal, and we won’t be able to fix them. But even with numbers stacked with tragedy and toil, we can still give the greatest offering we have—our ears, our hands, our love and our time.
Taken from Unnoticed Neighbors by Erina K. Ludwig © 2011 by The House Studio Kansas City, MO. Used by permission by Publisher. All rights reserved.
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