The health care reform bill has passed–a flawed but necessary piece of legislation that will continue to engender impassioned opposition and calculated efforts at repealing some of its provisions. (Not to mention, I suspect, a new low in malicious campaign ads this fall designed to unseat the bill’s proponents. Won’t that be fun?).

One of the enduring problems with the health care debate is that it leaves out some of the most important debaters. When it’s just politicians doing the arguing, you know you’re never going to get beyond the posturing and the platitudes. Never.

But if people with real life-or-death stakes in the outcome of health care reform (and not just the stakes of re-election) are invited to be meaningful partners in the conversation–a conversation that has in some ways only begun–it might be possible to cut to the chase of what really matters.

But this would require something that almost never happens in our politics: the transgressing of socio-economic boundaries, the crossing of class divisions that keep the comfortable middle class at a comfortable distance from the struggling working poor. This would require, say, that a U.S. congressman talk seriously to (and not down to) the woman who cleans his office every night.

In this past Sunday’s lectionary-appointed Gospel reading, Jesus says, “you always have the poor with you.” Christians around the world heard these words this weekend. But what do we really make of them? That poverty is a lamentable but enduring reality we must cope with as best we can? This has been pretty much the standard interpretation for centuries.

When Jesus says to his hearers, “you always have the poor with you,” he reminds them (and us) that we are always to be with the poor. That love of God is inseparable from love of neighbor. That “inviting Jesus into our hearts” (sentimental language found no where in scripture) means (if you’re really into that phraseology) inviting the poor into our hearts also. And into our homes and our privilege and our security–as in good schools, reasonable wages, and decent health insurance.

The millions of people who have fallen through the cracks of health insurance coverage will now rest a little easier, but the debate will go on. So will the ugly rancor, the name-calling and the back-biting. And it’s naive to think that politicians–on either side of the very wide aisle–will attempt with any seriousness to address how their lack of proximity to the poor is an impediment to good governance.

But those who heard the Gospel anew this weekend might consider that Jesus really meant those words, that “being with the poor” is being with Christ himself, even as we also strive to be his Body–broken, blessed, and given–for a world and its people struggling for wholeness and for health.