Monday, December 17, 2007

“And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Recently, the papers reported that a patient was allowed to bleed to death in an American inner city emergency room because no one would take responsibility for her care. It made me wonder about things, about a world where health care has become an industry and not a ministry. The woman died of a perforated bowel. She had an Hispanic surname.

We live in a culture that, for all the lip service paid to religion, appears to take great offense at God. God gives freely to all. We expect payment. God is life. Our world remains fascinated by the power of death. If we Christians believe that God really walked the earth in the form of Jesus Christ, then we would do well to pay attention to Jesus. Jesus was a healer. He gave health as a sacrament, not a commercial transaction. Jesus relieved people of leprosy, psychosis, paralysis, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, hemorrhage, death and terror. All that he asked in return was that we keep faith in the processes of life. The only thing he asked of us was to choose life no matter how great appeared the evidence for death.

Jesus lived in an agonistic, imperial world that imposed order by force and turned law from a tool of discernment into an instrument of control. In this world it was taught that illness was the fruit of sin. Too much fat in the diet, not enough exercise, a bad lifestyle all exerted its compensatory pound of flesh. The high cost of health care becomes propitiation for the high cost of sin. But as anyone who knows and loves the law knows, the moment we begin to think this way, law ceases to be our teacher and becomes our dictator. We lose the grace that is present in times of illness and stress. Or as the more modern healer, Carl Jung, wrote, “A man [sic] is ill, but the illness is nature’s attempt to heal him.”

To see illness as the beginning of healing rather than the judgment of a wrathful God may have been the most radical jewel in Christ’s ministry. All the same, very early on in Western “civilization,” even before Christ, a fissure opened up between the mind and the body, between heaven and earth, father and mother, the rational and the mythical, the physical and the psychological, nonfiction and fiction, animal and human, with the result that as a culture we are compelled to deal with a schizoid existence, cut off from one another and from ourselves, unable to fully apprehend either ourselves as individuals or in relationship to one another.

Whatever you may believe about Jesus, the idea that God would love us so much that he would sanctify the very dirt and bone from which we are made is powerful indeed. I wonder if we would all live differently if we really knew that earth and dirt and rocks and yellow jackets were holy?

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

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