Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Encountering Jesus

My mother-in-law gave me a book called, "A Balm for Gilead: Meditations on Spirituality and the Healing Arts," by Daniel P. Sulmasy. As I have read this work, a handful of ideas and prayers have struck me as quite profound and have stayed with me.

One I wanted to share in particular is a new take on the passage Matthew 25:31-40. Here are the words of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
I have always read this passage to mean that when we serve those who are on the outside, remember those who are forgotten, uplift those who are downtrodden, empower those who are oppressed, then we are caring for those who are close to Jesus' own heart. In this sense, when we love the "least of these," we are showing that our hearts are aligned with Jesus' heart, as well as serving those who are experiencing many of the trials Jesus himself experienced (poverty, rejection, etc.) And Jesus will remember these acts as evidence that the Holy Spirit was doing God's work of love and healing through us. 

In his book, however, Sulmasy takes this a step further by suggesting to those of us in the health care field that an encounter with a person suffering from illness or pain is an encounter with Jesus himself. There is some aspect of a sick patient that reflects the person of Jesus directly. It is not just metaphorical that we are helping someone like Jesus, but rather, we are encountering the Christ incarnate in some way. Sulmasy reminds us that Jesus said, "I was sick and you visited me." In Sulmasy's own words,
"To be a  healer is to find God in those in need of healing. For the Christian, healing is a direct encounter with the divine. And that encounter, if genuine, necessarily causes personal transformation. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the priest and the Levite ignore God when they ignore the wounded man, and so their lives remain unchanged - they keep walking down the same path. The man the Good Samaritan finds bleeding on the side of the road is really the Lord. And in picking him up and binding his wounds, the Samaritan's life is changed.... 
"...So, although religious health care professionals may often want to understand themselves as 'channels' for God's healing power, Christianity teaches that they would perhaps be better served if they understood themselves first and foremost as persons privileged to serve God by serving the sick (p. 24)."
For me, what seemed at first to be a subtle shift in perspective, upon further prayer and meditation, turned out to be earth shaking. When I look into the eyes of a person in the midst of physical or spiritual pain, can I see Jesus Christ himself? And if so, how will I encounter him, and what will he show me? How will I respond? While I still believe that God may use health care professionals as a conduit for his work and love in the world, I am also moved to think that upon my next encounter with human illness, if I look for it, I may see the glimmer of Christ incarnate.

How that will change the way I look at a person!

To learn more about how Jesus has shaped my drive to serve through public health, check out my post, "Jesus as a Community Organizer?"


  1. While I was reading your post, I was also thinking about how one would feel if the person in need of care did not seem so appreciative of that care. Could you still feel privileged to care for that person? I think that would be challenging.

    1. Wow, great question. The gospel is so challenging in its call to love those who persecute or who are perceived as "enemies" in some way. I think the call to action is the same, but it would definitely need to be a work of the Holy Spirit in me!