Like Jesus, it is our duty to help heal the sick and infirm
Thought for the weekend
Many years ago, on a Sunday evening I was leading a youth fellowship group of about 20 young adults. I asked them: "What is the most important thing you can do?" They each replied: "We should pray for those who are sick".
I was surprised by their answer because they were living and growing up in one of the most troubled parts of Belfast. But those bright and intelligent young people highlighted their primary concern - praying for those who were sick.
Since then, I have always included the sick and those in need in my private prayers and at public worship. I have also encouraged young people to pray and to be involved at every level in the life of the church.
As we reflect on the earthly ministry of Jesus, we see that two of his great concerns were the practice of prayer and the healing and well-being of those who were sick. Jesus taught his followers to pray regularly, and to use the words of 'The Lord's Prayer' as the model prayer.
Healing was also at the heart of the work of Jesus. Jesus restored the Roman Centurion's daughter to life. He healed 10 men of their leprosy and the woman with a haemorrhage. He healed the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. In these and other healings, and in the exhortation to pray, Jesus was revealing his love, and that of his Father for his hearers. He was underlining the importance of prayer for everyone, and of love, compassion and healing for those who suffer.
As we look around in our global society today, we see that in almost every country and community, an immense issue and challenge is the health and well-being of those who are sick, and are dependent on the care and support of others.
Here in Northern Ireland, the extent of the demand is illustrated by the level of public spending on Health and Social Services. Currently, it stands at £4.88bn per year. That represents 47% of total Government spending. It also represents an average of £2,711 per person, per annum spent on 1.8 million of us living here. Some health experts say that the whole Government budget could be swallowed up on health spending alone. That is neither realistic nor feasible. Government policy is to reduce immense spending on hospitals and to expand homecare, thereby achieving substantial savings, while giving people their preferred choice of being cared for by family and health professionals at home.
Before the dissolution of the Stormont Assembly and Executive, the health budget had not been agreed. The situation at Stormont begs the question of when funding will be released to enable the Department of Health to get on with the job of caring for all who are sick in Northern Ireland.
Doctors and nurses are overworked and near to collapse. Around 2,000 nursing posts need to be filled urgently. We have an ageing population needing greater health care, and waiting lists need to be cut.
Yes, more money and staff are needed for a modern and sustainable health service. What could be more important for all of us than a health service meeting the needs of our families and friends? It is a God-given responsibility to care for the sick. That's what Jesus did. You and I are called to do likewise.