Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
– Matthew 10:1-8
“At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that religious persons should care for the sick; no Christian building, except perhaps a church, is more self-explanatory than a Christian hospital. Yet on further consideration the thing is really connected with the undying paradox, the blessed two-edged character, of Christianity. And if any of us were encountering Christianity for the first time he would be vividly aware of this paradox.”
– C. S. Lewis, “Some Thoughts”
(Note: when the literary work is in quotes, it generally means an essay of that title.)
First, what is this paradox to which Lewis refers? One edge of the two is that over the past 2,000 years, Christianity has been a driving force into many humanitarian endeavors, from arts to agriculture to literacy. Yet, much of the advancements in Art include paintings of a Man who is hung by a crude implement of torture and death in a gruesome manner. To top it off, the cross, the crude torture device, has become the world-wide symbol of the Faith. Thus, the paradox, which Lewis admits is not much of a problem to the believer and life-long church-goer, is summed in a question, which of these images is Christianity? A religion that advances humanitarian pursuits and heals the sick or a church that praises a form of ancient torture?
As Lewis said, to a believer, we don’t see the problem. We know that we don’t worship the cross. The cross is a reminder of the sacrifice made by Jesus, but let’s consider someone who sees a church for the first time. Let’s start with a person from a closed (non-Christian) society, who has never experienced anything other than that closed society. This person breaks free and enters a nearby village without speaking to anyone. The most prominent building in the small town is the church. The church has a tall steeple with a cross on top. The person has no experience from the closed society with crosses. The person has no idea what one is. The person enters the empty church on a weekday. He sees a painting of Jesus, dead on the cross, blood pouring from His side, nails in His hands and feet, and a crown of thorns on His head. The person does not bow down and worship Jesus. The person may feel sympathy, or maybe empathy, for Jesus, but the person runs from the church and runs as far away from the village as possible. The person saw the cross on the steeple, and the person does not want to be the next to hang there.
This is an altogether plausible scenario, but there are few closed societies today. The only problem is that many non-believers have seen attitudes portrayed by church-goers that might give them the opinion that the church might start crucifying non-believers at any minute. Have you ever seen people at church that never smile? You know the ones. The ones that look like they sat on a corncob and the cob got stuck there. The ones that look like they are always in excruciating pain. Have you ever heard some church people talk? It may not be what they say, but from their tone it is like this conversation. Church goer #1: “Isn’t it a good day!” Church goer #2: “WHAT IS SO GOOD ABOUT IT?!”
I’m not talking about the guy who has a bad day. Some loving Christians seem to never have a bad day. I feel that I break the tenth commandment. I covet that kind of Joy, the kind that erases the world around them. No, I’m talking about people who are consistently having a bad life. Maybe the non-believer only notices those people in the church. Now add the symbol of the cross and the knowledge that the cross is a torture and death device, do you need a closed society at this point to make the scenario work?
Why only notice those ornery people? Okay, if you listen to or read the news, what sells the news? Good, fluff stories or bad, sensational stories? The sensational stuff always sells. Thus, people get conditioned to think that bad news is the only important news. We become victims of our own lust for sensationalism.
This is enough of Lewis’ paradox. Let’s look at what Jesus sent the disciples to do. He sent them to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Sure, all that sounds like a hospital. But Jesus also said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” Freely given does not sound like a hospital. They may not make a profit each year, but it costs the insurance company a fortune for you to stay there for one night.
But, the church’s efforts in humanitarian pursuits have extended from “We have plenty and others do not.” The Arts advancements were born in decorating the church as a method of illustrating the sacrifice of Jesus and the grandeur of God. The advancements in agriculture, fishing, etc. was to teach people how to feed themselves, not just handing them a loaf of bread. And the initial purpose in advancements in literacy was to open the eyes of the common man to the Word of God. In following the commands of Jesus, Christianity is more than just healing the sick.
But let’s turn Lewis’ first statement on its ear and look at the corollaries that might arise from a modern hospital with a Christian name.
I recently spent time in two different hospitals as a patient and a third hospital as my wife’s driver. She had also gone to one of the hospitals where I had been. None of the hospitals had a “Christian” name, but what if one did? In one ordeal, I started at the doctor’s office, in the professional building that was part of the hospital campus. I went there because of severe pain from kidney stones, actually the last stone of three stones. I was sent to the radiology lab for a CT scan, by now doubled over in pain. I was sent back to the lab waiting area after the scan. Finally, I was sent back to the doctor. The doctor stuck me in an unused room where I waited until he had time for me, since I wasn’t a scheduled patient. Now four hours after I first arrived, he says, “I think we need to do something about the pain. I’m sending you to the ER. I’ll call ahead so that they’ll know what to do as soon as you arrive. It’s Friday. We’ll do the surgery on Monday.” The ER was two floors up and as far away from his office as you could get and still be on the hospital’s property. And, unless we drove around the hospital to get there, there were doors that cannot be opened by a ‘civilian’. We walked halfway. I spotted a volunteer and begged for a wheel chair. After the shortest wait of the day, I was then whisked away to the ER. I got to the ER about 30 minutes after leaving the doctor’s office. They either never got a call from the doctor or they pretended to never getting a call until I registered. I had already registered at the hospital two times that day. This was the third time answering the same questions. Then, the ER doctor came in and demanded that I have all kinds of tests done, most of which had already been done. By this time, I was unhappy and had a pain level of 9.5. I will not exaggerate. Some would claim a pain level of 12 on a 1-10 scale. I’m too much of a math purist for that. I said, probably a bit too loudly, “You will not do any tests until you call the doctor who sent me here! And hurry, his office closes about this time of day.” I was assured that they had means of contacting him at home. My unasked question was “Why had they not already done so?” I waited for another 30 minutes before the nurse entered with the equipment to give an IV port and another 30 minutes before they gave me some medication. I looked at the clock on the wall. I had arrived at the hospital 6 hours before getting medication, because I could not handle the pain. For six hours, I got excuses, shrugs, and “That’s not my department.” I know why. It seems everyone, including Christians are obsessed with NOT forgiving and cashing in on the mistakes of others. Everyone is so afraid of being sued that the paperwork is infinitely more important than the patient. Okay, I was in immediate threat of dying. I just had pain. I am sure that heart attacks, accident victims, etc. are treated before the paperwork is finished.
In all this description, which might fit 90% or more hospitals in the world, where does the compassion of Jesus shine forth? Do churches or denominations still want their name associated with hospitals in this type of an atmosphere? Yes. In spite of the Nurse Ratched types of healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, and admin), you have those that really care. You have victories over deadly diseases. The denomination will shine when news of a medical breakthrough happened at their hospital. The denomination will also pay good money to the PR department to bury the tons of complaints.
In Matthew, chapter 9, a woman touched the cloak of Jesus. She is healed. But that is not the only importance of this story. How did Jesus react? Remember, He was in a hurry to save a child, the daughter of a synagogue leader. There was no time to waste. The child would die soon, if Jesus did not get there quickly. But Jesus stopped. Jesus noticed that energy had left His body. He asked the crowd who had touched Him. When the woman came forth, Jesus had compassion on her. Of course, all of this was who Jesus is as the Healer, but it all fit into the Father’s plan. The daughter died. Jesus was too late, but He said that the daughter was simply asleep. Jesus did not lie. Being asleep was a euphemism for dying and in that time, you were not officially dead for a few days. Lazarus? He was not ‘sleeping’; he was dead, and they feared the horrible smell when the tomb opened. But, in this case, Jesus raised the daughter back to life.
Should Christians be interested in healing the sick? Jesus told us to do so. Should Christians be interested in the other things, the humanitarian pursuits? We have lost our focus in these pursuits in many cases. But, we should pursue them as long as the focus is on what Jesus commanded us to do, to spread the Gospel to every corner of the world.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.