Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
During my childhood
years, my family physician was Dr. Anthony Rini—last name spelled R-I-N-I. A
good Roman Catholic, from Cleveland, he was one of the few Italian-Americans in
my hometown—and the only doctor. Before he opened his practice, people had to
drive to the county seat to see a physician. Dr. Rini was a great guy! Very
outgoing, easy to smile, easy to laugh. Belonging to the last generation to make
house calls, he came a couple of times to our home. The fact that he and his
family lived close to our place and my father farmed some land for him may also
have made a difference. You could say that we had an “inside connection.”
Anyway, one time that
he came was when I had a very high temperature and felt too puny to get up and
dressed for an office visit. It was the end of the day that he arrived, holding
in his hand a black bag out of which he took a stethoscope, a tongue depressor,
and whatever that thing’s called that doctors put into the ears and look
through. His presence and attention assured me I would soon get well.
Now, as far as going
to his office was concerned, well—that could be a completely different
experience, especially during the winter time. The waiting room was often packed
with children and parents—and maybe one or two older adults. All the chairs
were lined up along the walls, providing space in the middle to serve as a
makeshift play area. So there everyone was: children coughing, sneezing, blowing
their noses. Some talking loudly and unable to stay still. Others sitting
quietly, with sad eyes—maybe one or two with quivering lips. Calling ahead for
an appointment? Forget that! On arriving, every person would simply sign in and
wait to hear her or his name called. And, even though the hours of operation
were posted at the door, the receptionist, nurse, and doctor never left until
every patient had been seen.
These two kinds of healing
experiences are highlighted in today’s Gospel. In the first—at the request
of Simon Peter—Jesus made a home visit to his mother-in-law, because she was
suffering from a bad fever. In that day and age, that could be an especially
nasty thing, the first symptom of what might well lead to death. Even today, a
high temperature can be a dangerous sign—as we’ve been seeing in this
year’s flu season. Well, Jesus found the woman lying in bed, reached down, and
took her by the hand. And “the fever left her.” As a gesture of thanks—of
restoring not only her health, but also her ability to carry out a primary role
of a woman in that time and place—she prepared and served a meal.
It was a very
personal, a very intimate experience of healing....Not so for the second part of
today’s reading. Word quickly spreading about what had just happened, the
disciples began directing to Jesus a number of people suffering one illor
another. Peter’s home soon became what we might call an improvised health
clinic. Like Dr. Rini’s office, sick people were lined up, waiting to be seen
by the one who could help them. None of them had much “face time” with
Jesus, but they were healed all the same.
The field of health
care—like so many other kinds of work that can be physically and emotionally
draining on any given day—requires down-time, regular rest and quiet.
For example, one
summer—when going to camp with some church youth—I met a counselor who was
one of the most outgoing, energetic persons I’ve ever known. Like other
counselors, he was with the kids most of the day and
night. (Counselors sleep in the same bunkhouses as the campers do.) But there
was something about him that seemed to go even above and beyond that. In a
conversation with some other staffers—near the end of the week—I asked them
how he did it. “Oh,” they said, “On our day off he spends the entire time
sleeping in his cabin—with the window blinds closed. If anyone stops by and
knocks on the door, they do so at their own peril.”
That’s definitely my
not style and I doubt that it is for most of us. Not quite for Jesus, either. He
recharged his batteries by—early in the morning—slipping away for a time of
prayer. Talking with God his father gave him the strength, the sustenance that
he needed for the work of the coming day.
Being any kind of
caregiver can be so demanding—no matter what the setting. In A hospital.
A nursing center. In a school.
Being a caregiver at home may be the most difficult of all. Tending to the needs
of a loved one—parent, spouse, sometimes a child—can easily be a fulltime
job. For some, it’s almost around the clock, especially if there’s
little in the way of a support system—no other nearby or available family
members or friends who are like family. For some households, it may be too
expensive to pay someone else to come for a few hours each day. On a couple of
occasions, I have known the caregiver of a spouse who became so run-down that he
or she became sick and died first.
In spite of the times
Jesus could get away from the crowds and be renewed in body, mind, and spirit,
I’m guessing there were moments when he may have gotten close to losing it. An
artistic depiction of that appears in a musical version of Jesus’ ministry.
It’s in a scene from the 1970 rock opera, “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” In
the countryside, he’s walking alone—along the base of some large rocks,
making up a number of crevices, even small caves. Jesus’ time is almost up. He
knows what is soon going to happen to him. He’s thinking about his death.
Suddenly, but quietly, a head pops out from behind a rock—and then the rest of
the person. He wears what appear to be little more than rags. Dirty bands of
cloth are wrapped around his head and arms, the latter of which he extends
outward toward Jesus. Quietly, slowly the man begins singing these words:
See my eyes, I can hardly see.
See me stand, I can hardly walk.
I believe you can make me whole.
See my tongue, I can hardly talk.
After describing the
rest of his ills—and the fact that he’s penniless—he continues:
Will you touch, will you mend me, Christ?
Won’t you touch, will you heal me, Christ?
Will you kiss, you can cure me, Christ?
Won’t you kiss, won’t you pay me Christ?
He makes his way to
Jesus, who does indeed touch him, who lays his hands on him. Then others begin
appearing—looking just like the first man—and, while climbing down the
rocks, sing the very same words. Jesus suddenly realizes he has come upon a
leper colony. Still others appear, all stretching their arms out, all singing
the same thing, the tempo picking up and the sound turning into a loud chorus.
Soon, surrounded by them, Jesus is frantically trying to touch each and every
person. But they also are touching him. Beginning to feel trapped, overwhelmed,
he tells them, “There are too many of you...Don’t push me. There’s too
little of me…Don’t crowd me.” But they keep coming, pleading with him over
and overto be made well. Finally, in a panic, he shouts out at the top of his
lungs, “Heal yourselves!,” then breaking through the crowd, walks away as
quickly as he can.
Is there any
scriptural basis for that scene? Can we find it anywhere in the gospels? No. Not
at all. It’s what’s known in Holly wood as taking creative or artistic
license. But one thing I appreciate about that scene is its portrayal of a human
Jesus—reminding us he is not only the fully divine Son of the Father, but
also, like us, is fully human. And, in the greatest act of healing, willingly
dies for us an extremely painful and humiliating death.
Something else we
should remember is that soon after he begins healing, forgiving, and proclaiming
the good news, Jesus blesses his disciples with these very same gifts, sending
them out to neighboring towns and villages.[i]
According to Luke, Jesus commissions yet others, who, on returning,
exclaim, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”[ii]
It’s important to
keep in mind that when it comes to caregiving, none of us should try to do it
all on our own. When possible, the best thing to do is get some help. When
caregivers don’t practice any self-care, then they may end up no longer able to do it for others.
For us who don’t currently have that kind of responsibility and can spare some time, we have the opportunity to help not only
the person who needs physical care, but also the one who provides that care most
of the rest of the time. When that’s not possible, at least we know we can
always pray for both those who give care and those who receive it.
My childhood family
physician, Dr. Rini—even he and the rest of the staff needed some help. A few years later, he
brought another person into the practice—another good Catholic, coming,
however, not from Cleveland, but all the way from the Philippines.
May we all remember
that at least one community of healing
that we belong to is this fellowship in which we find ourselves. And at the very
heart of it is the Great Physician.