An Interrupted Life: Health Care and the Gospel

by Scott Wright
Director, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward,
knelt down before him, and said,
"My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live."
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples. 

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him
and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself, "If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured."
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
"Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you."
And from that hour the woman was cured. 

We live in times of interruption, many of them welcome, like a surprise visit from a friend or family member. Many interruptions, however, are unwelcome, and many are positively devastating: wars, disease, climate disasters, forced migration, economic collapse, religious hatred and racial violence, or a debilitating illness or death in the family  

How do we live with these interruptions in ways that are life-giving? I think we can find a key to answer this in this week’s Gospel.  

In the Gospel, Jesus was interrupted twice, once by a father grieving his daughter’s death, and once by a woman suffering from a chronic illness. Each of them was living on the edge of life, each of them looked for healing, and in their encounter with Jesus each found a deeper source of strength they did not know they had. 

First, we do not know the reason why the official’s daughter died, nor do we know the source of the women’s illness. What we do know is that Jesus’ response is one of healing and life. We might say that, for Jesus, “death has no dominion.” He came to bring life and life in abundance (John 10:10). 

We also know that Jesus sees a source of healing and life in the faith of the official and in the faith of the woman. To the official whose daughter had died, he says by his actions: “Courage! Your faith has saved your daughter!” and to the woman suffering from a hemorrhage Jesus says: “Courage! Your faith has saved you!  

What can we learn from this Gospel about our life together today? 

Last week, our staff joined other Catholics for a pre-dawn vigil Mass on the lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. There we heard moving testimonies from people directly concerned about their health care, and their anxiety about losing it due to a pre-existing condition, addiction, mental health challenges, pregnancy and birth, or because they are children from poor families or seniors in nursing homes. What they all had in common was their dependency on Medicaid for their health care, and their fear if current versions of the Senate Health Care bill pass, they could lose everything. 

What might this Gospel teach us about such a contentious issue as health care? 

First, we know that God’s intention for every person is life and life in abundance. We also know that God intends for us to protect and promote life – for everyone. We know that Gospel values such as human dignity and the common good, and Catholic virtues such as solidarity and option for the poor, require us to make sure that every person has access to what promotes quality of life, and that includes health care.  

So what do we do when our lives – or the lives of our loved ones or our neighbors – are interrupted by pregnancy and birth, or by childhood illnesses, or by addiction or mental health challenges, or by pre-existing conditions or the need for nursing home care? How do we make sure that anyone who needs help has access to those who are tasked by their vocation to care for and heal our infirmities? 

We are invited to do as Jesus did, to respond with life-giving care and to ensure that our health care system provides that protection and care for everyone, and particularly for the poor and vulnerable among us, regardless of their ability to pay or their immigration status.  

And if we respond as Jesus did, those times of interruption may become times of blessing, even as we face the inevitable challenges that life sends our way, and even as we seek to eradicate the systemic evils of war, disease, climate disasters, forced migration, economic collapse, religious hatred and racial violence, or a debilitating death or illness of a loved one in our human family. 

We truly are our brother’s keeper, our sister’s keeper. We are responsible for each other. 

Weekly Reflection on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.