A Preacher tells his congregation: “Next week I will preach on the subject of telling the truth. I will use Mark Chapter 17 as the basis for my sermon. I ask you this week to open your Bibles and read Mark Chapter 17.”
The following Sunday, as the preacher was to begin his sermon, he reminded the congregation of the subject matter and his request, asking: “Now how many of you have read Mark, Chapter 17?”
About 20 hands went up.
The preacher said, “Really? Know that Mark has only 16 chapters. Let’s begin.”
Imagine going to the doctor’s office for a check-up. The doctor says: “You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated.”
Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out your arteries were so clogged that you were, like, one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper. After time in the hospital and rehab, you go back to the doctor and say, “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”
The doctor says, “Well, I knew your body was in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy. But if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It’s bad for business. They don’t come back. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.”
Me? I would be furious about his exaggerated diagnosis and perhaps use his stethoscope to give him a new body piercing. Obviously, with something as serious as one’s physical health, only a fool would want an illusory comforting diagnosis based on pain avoidance or hurt feelings. While doctors should be very caring as to our physical health – and usually they are – priests are as concerned with our spiritual health.
When a priest – our spiritual doctor – instructs us as members of the Church to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to love one another, to repent for our sins, to share with those who are in need, to pray, . . . we need to listen. In reality, his words are heeded with the same cursory response as the doctor telling the addict he needs to stop or he will die: “OK, tomorrow I’ll quit, I promise.”
Instructing a person to prepare for eternal life probably will get you the addict’s answer because there never seems to be an immediacy to the situation. We certainly don’t believe we are going to die today or even tomorrow, so there’s time, right?
It would be more comforting if the priest told us: Don’t worry, God still loves you, and with your meaningful contribution to the church coffers with the decimal point in the right place, you should be OK and on the fast track to heaven. The question is: do you want to bet your eternal life on such a response?
John the Baptist told the people to repent, for the Kingdom of God was at hand. He chastised prince Herod for marrying his brother’s wife. Then Herod, to please his new wife’s daughter, offered her any gift she wanted only if she would dance at his birthday celebration. She asked, received, and gave to her mother, the head of John the Baptist.
Jesus preached that his listeners were to repent as well. After spending three years with them, healing them, teaching them, loving them, they still nailed him to a cross.
The priest bears the same responsibility as the Prophets who preached to a people unwilling to turn away from idolatry and back to the worship of the One True God; to a people who ignored the warnings of the Baptist and had no fear or interest of repentance and the coming of God; of the reality of the Messiah who has come and will come again to reunite all things in heaven and on earth as it was in the beginning. But that takes courage, dedication, conviction, and a determination to overcome the same closed minded pharisaical temperaments that Jesus faced.
Sure, it’s great hearing doctors of fabrication give us a fantastic, inventive diagnosis. We “feel” so good after our visits, equating his “good news” to his capabilities as a doctor.
After all who knows more about myself than me, and now my doctor has affirmed all that I had known.
Those doctors that tell me to take off the weight, to start exercising and give up the sedentary lifestyle or I’m going to pay the consequences are just like those priests who tell me to find Jesus and live as he preached, to care for the downtrodden, and to love others. Neither one has any real idea as to who I truly am.
Whether the doctor, the priest, or both, of whose vocation and ministry is caring for the physical and spiritual health of the body and soul, can only ask for our compliance. The doing – physical and/or spiritual – must come from the individual. Without first saying yes and then making the changes is like the old saying: you do the same thing over and over but expect different results. It won’t happen.
He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18: 2- 3)
So when you next attend Badarak and hear your priest preach about you becoming more of the person God wants you to be, to give up a lifestyle that is doing you harm, say thank you to him for his love and care about your spiritual well being and salvation. Understand well that in the end, he well as your doctor are trying to save your life – one the physical and the other the eternal.