The Best Health Care Plan
A sermon based on Matthew 9:9-13
Sunday, July 3, 2011 – Pentecost 3A
What do we have? 16 months still? But the Presidential campaigns are already heating up. And one of the topics likely discussed and debated this round, just like last time, is that of health care. About four years ago, one presidential hopeful announced his intentions: "My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less. If you are one of the 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance, you will have it after it becomes law. No one will be turned away because of a preexisting condition or illness." (Barack Obama, Speech in Iowa City, IA, May 29, 2007).
It's no surprise that this has become a key issue. With rising health care costs, guidelines limiting an individual's eligibility, and the constant tussle between health care providers and insurance agencies, Americans want to know which health care plan is the most affordable, which provides the best care and which is available for me.
And many people today view religions like they do health care providers. They want to know which is the best for me? What will it cost me? Is it affordable? What kind of care will it provide? And is it available for me? Thankfully, by God's grace, we have the answers. This morning we hear how Jesus, the Doctor of Souls, gives us the best spiritual health care. It's the only one that's free. It's the only that works. And we know we're eligible because it's only for the sick.
Listen now to the Doctor of Souls and the description of this perfect health care plan as Matthew describes his own calling in Matthew 9:9-13. Matthew writes…
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
I. The Only One That's Free
Now those who oppose a national health care plan are those who are concerned what it will do to our taxes. "Free health care for everyone," of course, isn't really free. Someone has to pay for it and that someone is the American tax payer. Now I don't know how you feel about taxes, but most people aren't terribly fond of them. In spite of all the benefits of libraries and parks and police protection and fire departments, most aren't really excited for April 15th to roll around.
But this aversion we have to paying taxes is nothing compared to what it must have been to a first century Jew. You see the taxes they were paying were going to Uncle Caesar, the Roman nation that had conquered them, their enemy. As if that weren't bad enough, the tax collectors were known to be cheats. Once they raised the amount promised to Rome, anything they made above that was theirs to keep. And it was easy to raise more when you had Roman muscle (not to mention Roman sword and spear) to help you enforce your inflated taxes.
How Matthew must have been hated. Considered a traitor to his people, a corrupt lap dog to Rome, a liar and a cheat, no wonder tax collectors were put out of the synagogues—excommunicated—and considered to be as moral as the prostitutes and other notorious sinners!
What a shocker it must have been then, when Jesus approached this outcast, this moral degenerate, this one who upstanding citizens would avoid like the plague. Didn't Jesus know what kind of a person Matthew was?!
Of course he did! And he approached him anyway.
And what an offer he made to Matthew! With just two short words he changed Matthew's life forever: "Follow me." What a gracious invitation! How much those two words must have meant to Matthew! They meant he was not an outcast to Jesus! They meant he was forgiven for his many sins—of every time he'd stolen or cheated. It meant that Matthew, sick sinner that he was healed! Cured! Made perfect and whole!
And the cost to Matthew? Nothing! It was free! Jesus didn't say, "You can follow me, but first you're going to have to pay." He didn't say, "I'll forgive your sins, if you first clean up your act." There was no charge to Matthew for the spiritual treatment he received. Jesus would pay the price in full himself. Matthew would follow Jesus throughout his ministry and learn firsthand what Jesus would do for him on the cross to pay the full price for his spiritual health, leaving nothing left for Matthew to do, leaving no co-pay to be paid.
Can you imagine going to the doctor without any insurance or any money? When the doctor asks "How are you going to pay for this treatment?" you respond, "Well, I can't. I have no hopes of paying you for it." What shock you'd have if he said, "Okay. Well, come on in. I'll treat you anyway. In fact, I'll pay all your medical bills for you. Just send 'em to my office." That would be grace. And that is the grace that your spiritual doctor, Jesus, gives to you.
You see, you and I don't deserve to be a part of the kingdom any more than Matthew did. Maybe we don't blatantly cheat others like he did, but do you always give 100% at your job? Do you always give to God in proportion to the way he's blessed you? If not, you've stolen from man and from God. You've acted just as corruptly as Matthew did in his cheating. And for our theft we deserve to be left to die in our spiritual sickness to die on earth and then forever in hell.
But, God's grace, calls us. Why? Doesn't he know what kind of sinners we are? Of course he does! That's exactly why he came. Jesus calls us to follow him and see what he's done for us at the cross. He calls us to be forgiven, to be restored to full spiritual health. He saw us in our sinful sickness, terminally ill, deserving to die forever in hell and he came to save us. In doing so, he caught what we had. He became sin for us. And taking that sin on himself, he took it away from us making us perfectly healthy and giving us eternal life.
And the cost to us for this eternal health plan? It's absolutely free! Jesus didn't say, "I'll give you this eternal health care plan if you cut me a check every now and then, if you do your best, if you pray some Hail Mary's, or if you cut your neighbor's lawn." Instead, he says, "It's on me. No insurance? I'll treat you anyway. In fact, I'll pay all your medical bills." That's the way Jesus works. He pays the price and calls us to his health care for free. And he calls us to be free from the sickness of sin because his is the only health plan that works…
II. The Only One That Works
Another argument against national health care is that the care provided will be inefficient. With everyone running to the doctor for every stubbed toe and hangnail (since it's free for them), the doctors will have too many patients to be effective in their care.
But that's not the case with Jesus. His health care is not only national, but universal. And yet it doesn't lose any of its efficacy because of the huge number of patients that he has to cover. In fact, Jesus' health plan is the only one that works. Look at how it worked for Matthew…
Jesus called Matthew and his response was immediate! He up and left whatever he was doing, left the tax collector's booth and followed Jesus. And that Jesus' call was effective with Matthew is demonstrated by the fruits of his faith that were almost immediately produced. Luke tells us in his gospel, 29 Then [Matthew] held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.
In other words, Matthew threw a party for Jesus. But he didn't throw it just to honor Jesus and give him something to eat, but also to share Jesus with others. To introduce the Doctor of Souls to other sick and dying sinners like him, his friends, his co-workers, who so desperately needed the cure of Jesus' mercy.
Does Jesus' healthcare work? You bet! With just two words, Jesus cured Matthew entirely. He removed his sin, he gave his perfect righteousness to Matthew, and turned him from a selfish, greedy, self-serving cheat, into a generous, hospitable, loving minister of the gospel!
And not only does Jesus' health care work, but it works every time! The success rate of his mercy is 100% while every other spiritual health plan always fails. Trusting in your own works to save you—which is really what every other religion outside of Christianity teaches—is like using leaches to get rid of your cancer. It just won't work. And worse, it can leave one with a false sense of hope.
But trust in Jesus and your sins are removed completely. You have perfect righteousness and are as fit as fiddle spiritually speaking. And it changes your life. Imagine how you would long to thank the doctor who gave you the instant and completely effective cure for your terminal cancer for free. How much more, then, don't we long to thank the Doctor who's cured us of our sin and saved us from eternal death in hell! And so we too are changed from selfish, greedy, self-serving cheats, into generous, hospitable, and loving ministers of the gospel!
But, finally, Jesus can only change us, he can only cure us, when we admit we're sick and accept the help he offers…
III. The Only One for Me
Imagine if we did have national health care in America. How foolish would it be for someone with some terminal disease to say, "No. I don't think I'm going to get treatment. It's not a big deal. I'm not really that sick." How stupid to turn down free and effective health care! Why would anyone do that? Only if they thought they didn't need it. That's how the Pharisees acted.
You see they thought they were perfectly health already. "Savior from sin?! What do we need that for? We're not sinners!" And so they refused the treatment they so desperately needed. They rejected the one Doctor that had the cure. In love, Jesus tried to point out their sickness. With perhaps a touch of sarcasm he said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." We don't know if any got the hint and later repented, but we do know that this warning wasn't meant for them alone.
We too are sick. And sometimes we act like we don't realize it—or at least we don't realize the serious nature of our sin. We think, sure I've done some things that were wrong, but I'm not that bad. I'm not like the people you read about in the paper. I'm not a drug dealer. I'm not promiscuous. I'm not like that inconsiderate jerk who pulled out in front of me on my way to church! And we act like our sins are just a hangnail compared to the cancer of the next guy. And that's a problem.
You see if we don't understand how sick we really are we won't go running to the Cure. If we think, like the Pharisees did, that church is a club for the saints, rather than a hospital for the sick, we won't get the best health care that we need. The truth is we are sick. The mirror of the Law gives us the diagnosis: Sick with sin, with greed, with pride. It shows us how terminally ill we are: "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10) "The wages of sin is death…" (Romans 6:23)
But thank God that he shows us how sick we are. Because when we admit the problem and confess our sin, we can get the help we need. We can turn to the Doctor and trust that he can help when he makes his house call to us. We can be healed and cured from our sin—for free! Perfectly! And immediately!
And then we can't help but respond in thanks. And leave the tax booths or whatever the place of our sin behind, and instead be generous to others. Like Matthew, we can invite others into our homes that they too might see how sick they are. That they too might see Jesus' health care plan—the best health care plan there is! The only one that's free! The only one that works! The only one for us! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.