Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 5:1-18) transports me to a weekend immersed in the turbulent waters of healing, waters that do not wait for a seasonal angelic visit, but continue to stir every day, including the Sabbath and Lord’s Day. Getting a glimpse into the deep pools of knowledge and skill that make up a Cardiac ICU in a tier one university hospital is more than awe-inspiring. The very thought of a tiny helium balloon being inserted into an aorta just outside the heart, the regular inflation of which gives the heart a chance to recover from trauma and beat again on its own, or a Swan catheter threaded through an artery into the heart to get diagnostic readings unavailable by EKG, is every bit as unimaginable and mysterious and numinous to me as an angel flying down to a pool to disturb the waters and create a healing bath. One of the medical angels we are especially grateful for is an ICU nurse named Cecile. At some point on the Sabbath day, as she kept close watch on my sister-in-law Carolyn’s vital signs, she noticed that something was not right with the heart rhythm; the response to the meds was unusual. She alerted the doctors and asked for more tests to be administered, and as a result they discovered that Carolyn’s cardiac arrests were not of the “normal” kind, but were instead a result of a very rare condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a stress induced shock to the heart that temporarily causes it to beat improperly. This diagnosis has only been part of the knowledge pool for a few years here in the U.S., after being discovered in Japan. The treatment plan for this is totally different than what they had been using, so as soon as they were able to switch the meds, Carolyn began to stabilize. Her condition is still critical, but is trending positive. Kudos to Cecile for keen observation skills and the initiative to question the original diagnosis.
When Jesus walked by the pool of Bethesda at the Sheep Gate on the outskirts of Jerusalem, his keen observation skills led him to a man who had been misdiagnosed for 38 years, and was waiting for access to a treatment in the health care system that he didn’t even need. For 38 years this man had been told, no doubt repeatedly, that what he needed was a dip in that curative Bethesda pool. Note that Jesus didn’t question the value of the healing pool, and he didn’t address any of the other invalids lying there waiting for the opportunity to renew health. No, Jesus only addressed this man, after quickly diagnosing that he was in need of a different pool of healing resources. What had paralyzed the man was not something that angel-troubled waters could ameliorate. What he needed was living water, something Jesus could offer with a simple blessing. That speaking a simple sentence to bring life back to the limbs of a troubled soul led to such mayhem and got Jesus into such serious trouble speaks to how far their authoritative understanding of both sabbath and healing had gotten from the source. Kudos to Jesus for disregarding the authorities and letting his healing water flow freely, no matter what day of the week. I trust that Jesus would find his regular time of rest, just as I hope Cecile and her colleagues build time into their rotations to honor sabbath rest.
Jesus’s story and Cecile’s story remind me of the essential nature of proper diagnoses. And the stories makes me wonder, as I listen to the news on my way back and forth from the hospital, if our body politic is not suffering from a longstanding misdiagnosis. What if all the politicos and generals and wannabe leaders who dominate our airwaves are doing little more than arguing over what kind of treatment plan is needed to address our culture’s ills and get the country’s heart beating again, but they’ve got the diagnosis all wrong to start with? What if what we really need is someone to come in with the insight and initiative to give the true diagnosis, and direct us to an entirely different pool of healing waters? I imagine that questioning our country’s core set of assumptions would provoke its own variety of mayhem, but it would be a welcome intervention nonetheless, even if it came on a Sabbath or a Lord’s Day.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.