When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
In Wales, we pride ourselves on being the birthplace of the NHS. The anniversary celebrations have rightly celebrated the role of Aneurin Bevan, minister of health in the postwar Attlee Government, and MP for Ebbw Vale. It is said that he modelled the NHS on the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid and Sick Relief Fund, health care free at the point of use, collectively funded by contributions from the small wage packets of local miners and others. He had known its benefits as a child, and Tredegar was located in his constituency. Many health centres in Wales are named after Bevan.
But there is another, earlier, justification for our claim. Howell Harris, the Calvinistic Methodist reformer converted in 1735, established a residential Christian community, Teulu Trefeca (Trefeca family) in rural Powys in 1752. Those who entered it shared all their possessions (after the pattern of Acts 4, to which we return on Saturday), and soon built a sanatorium to care for those who were ill. It offered free health care also to those in the wider local community. This precursor is truly remarkable – community members had mainly been tenant farmers, so “all their possessions” meant a little furniture and a few animals. Yet these funds, plus the community’s own income, funded a local health care service free at the point of use into the 19th century.
Harris’s inspiration was not Bevan’s socialism (Harris was rather right wing politically), but the compassion of Jesus. Just as those who are sinners need repentance and forgiveness, so those who are sick need a physician. As Jesus had compassion on the man who was paralysed, so Harris when he saw hardship in his local community realised that these two needs were inextricably intertwined. Christian compassion meant not just preaching the gospel but also healing the sick.
Lord Jesus, you had compassion on individuals suffering in body, mind or spirit. We pray for those we know who suffer today …. You also had compassion on those who worked together to bring the paralysed man to you. So we pray for those who work in the NHS and all of us who contribute towards it financially. Inspire us with compassion, that paying our taxes may be a joyful sign of our faith. Amen
The Rev’ d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer with Cytun (Churches together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff.