Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bread from Stones

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:3-4, ESV).

I was working in Albania recently, a country that has many good hearted people and many very well trained and intelligent doctors, but a country that is also suffering medically because the money procured for healthcare often ends up in the pockets of the leaders rather than in the care of the people. (I can’t too harshly criticize them, realizing the numbers of American doctors who will not care for the uninsured.) I was dining with an Albanian colleague and friend, and he was telling me how the doctors just need to quit taking money illegally for their services. I said to him, “What you need is a change in the hearts of the doctors. God is the only one who can change their hearts.”

He brushed my comment away with his fingers in the air saying, “It’s not with the God or without the God; we can do the right thing if we choose.”

I wanted to say, “How’s that working out for you?” But, I stuffed the thought back into my throat with the next bite of pizza.

The prior Pope of the Catholic Church, Joseph Ratzinger, has written a beautiful description of the temptation of Christ in his three-volume work Jesus of Nazareth. He expresses Satan’s second temptation toward the church with the words, “If you claim to be the Church of God, then start by making sure the world has bread---the rest comes later.” Ratzinger then answers for the church as Christ answered for Himself, “History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines. If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good, either”---thus, my concern for my Albanian friend’s country.

As Christian doctors we are called to serve the whole man and to love him actively by relieving his suffering.  This is part of “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Many of us work hard on Christian missions, both in America and internationally, toward this end. Most of us work actively in our own practices or teaching positions toward this end. But we must never presume that the ultimate salvation of man comes with a temporary relief from his difficult physical condition. The ultimate salvation of man comes from a change in his heart through the presence of God.

I suspect that this same change is necessary if we wish also to improve the broken social systems of so many countries in this world.

Dear Father,
Help us care for those who suffer, just as you have demanded of us. But let us never forget that good life needs far more than bread.

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