Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Dr. Jesus"

I went to hospital the other day to visit one of the members of the little church where I’m serving as Intentional Interim Pastor. While I was there, I stopped in to check on someone I had been asked to visit, not a member of our church, who was facing rather serious surgery. I found her; told her who I was; chatted with her briefly; and then asked about her surgery. She explained that it was quite serious. I said: “Who’s your doctor?” trying to make conversation as much as anything else. And she looked at me, smiled, and said: “He’s the best doctor there is! It’s Dr. Jesus!”

I have to admit that I found her comment both surprising and a bit off-putting. I suddenly had visions of Jesus in surgical suite, wearing surgical scrubs, mask, and gloves, screaming “Hemostat!” at a nurse. But when I thought about it a bit, I think I understood what she was expressing, albeit in language that would not have been my first choice. She was trying to express her faith that God is forever on the side of health and wholeness, and because Jesus was God Incarnate, so was he. I think she was also expressing her belief that there’s more to health and wholeness than just “taking things out” (surgery) and “putting things in” (drug therapy). That finally, health and wholeness are God’s gifts, and like all gifts they will not be forced upon us without our knowledge or consent; we must be willing to receive them.

That is, I think, what Jesus’ strange question to the paralyzed man by the Pool of Bethesda in John 5 was all about. In the story, the man had been lying there paralyzed for 38 years waiting for the troubling of the waters in the belief (according to the legend) that the first one in would be healed. But being paralyzed, he was at a distinct disadvantage, able-bodied people beating him into the water. Jesus comes by the Pool, sees him lying there, and asks, on the surface, a strange question: “Do you wish to be made whole?” The word “whole” in the Greek is our word hygiene. It’s a health term. It seems a strange question to ask a paralyzed man; every indication was that he wanted to be healed. But it’s an appropriate question in that Jesus recognized that we cannot be passive when it comes to our own healing and wholeness; we must participate ourselves if we are to be made healthy and whole. Later in John, Jesus turns to face his critics who only care that he healed the man on the wrong day - the sabbath! And as he does, he asks yet another penetrating question: "Are you angry with me because I made a whole man whole on the sabbath?" (John 7:23). In Greek, the first "whole" is literally our word "whole" (holos) meaning "total;" but the second word "whole" is the same word used in chapter 5 for health - hygiene. Jesus regards healing and health as making the "whole man whole" - body, mind, and spirit.

That’s not been the perspective of much Western medicine. Here in the West physicians have tended to be the “keepers of the mystery of health” and patients are passive recipients. Healing is something done to you, not with you, and health is concerned only with part of you, not the whole of you. Physicians here in the West have tended to focus on the disease rather than the person, diagnosis rather than health, body rather than body-mind-spirit. But the traditions about health from which Jesus came were more congenial with the Eastern approach where human beings are regarded as "the whole package" - body-mind-spirit, and are expected to be active participants in their own health and wholeness. Happily, there are signs that things are changing here in the West. Integrative medicine (once called “alternative” medicine – Hear the pejorative nuance in the adjective? Amazing in light of the fact that for 5,000 years this "alternative" medicine was the only medicine there was!), is quickly becoming mainstream thanks largely to the work of Drs. Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil. Chopra in particular provides a strong apologetic for a more integrative and less atomistic approach to medicine. He makes the compelling argument that even Western medicine recognizes the “mind-body connection” when it comes to negative consequences – the destructive consequences of stress is well documented; but when it comes to the positive implications of the mind-body connection, Western medicine is more dismissive – “You can’t just think yourself well!” Why not? You can think yourself sick, can’t you! Why should it work only one way? Chopra and others have pointed out that the complex body chemistry involving tens of millions of seemingly independent activities are all carefully and meticulously coordinated every time we do something as simple as throwing a ball. But we don’t actively coordinate all those millions of independent activities; rather, our intention to “throw the ball” marshals them all and sets them to the task. Which is a way of saying that intention is a powerful resource when it comes to getting our bodies to do what we want them to do, a resource until now often overlooked by Western medicine.

But Jesus, more Oriental than Occidental, understood the power of intention and asked the man: “Do you wish to be made whole?”

“I’ve got the best doctor of all,” she said. “Dr. Jesus.” Now that I think about it, I believe she does.

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