Matthew 25:40 - And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
In this series, those working within health care were asked to consider the words of Matthew 25:40 and then answer: Who are the least of these? How do they impact your ministry?
This particular parable in Matthew 25 is one of my favorites. The story illustrates what a great communicator Jesus was. The story begins in a context that the clerics and scholars of Jesus’ era could identify with, contrasting a King against the “least:” criminals, beggars, and the chronically ill. Yet by verse 40, Jesus alters this social infrastructure—the King and the “least” are actually one in the same.
Healthcare professionals learn to treat each patient “as if she or he were our own family member.” I often remind myself that the purpose of treating, say, a homeless alcoholic “as if he is my own brother” is not to pat myself on the back for my charitable sensibilities. Rather, it is because he is my brother. Insomuch as Jesus occupies every single person, my patient and myself are two parts of a common whole, just as two arms are parts of the same body. Hence, I regard my obligation to take care of my patients with the same natural instinct that I have to take care of myself. This stems not so much from the golden rule of treating others as I would want to be treated, as from the supreme awareness of the connection we share.
Today we find ourselves on the front end of what could very well be an exciting new era in American healthcare. For decades, the financial framework under which healthcare has operated has created an increasingly disparate patient population, all stemming from the illusion that patients should be treated according to which box they fit in - Medicare, Medicaid, privately insured, or uninsured. What we are finally realizing, finally talking about, is that the way that we treat the uninsured “least of these” affects the treatment of even the “kings” with private insurance. American healthcare reform, for all the discord it has incurred, is an attempt to address these disparities. There is much work to do, but the conversation is flourishing, and the seed has been planted.
John Winton is an Internal Medicine Hospitalist in Memphis, Tenn.