Whenever a church hires a new pastor, there’s a buzz that generates across the congregation. Questions like, “Will he be like so-and-so?” or “Will she preach better than you-know-who?” captivate the thoughts of parishioners. Sometimes a person in a congregation will have an image of who you are as a minister, or who you will be for them, before you even get a chance to know their names. And that’s how I met Jason.
Jason was a musician within the church. He was young, single, and a genuinely nice guy. But the first time I met him, it was clear that he was one of those people who knew exactly who I would be for him. He introduced himself by saying, “Hi, I’m Jason, and I have cancer.”
Apparently, I was going to be his guy: the guy he talked to, prayed with, who would walk with him through treatments and procedures. I wasn’t his sole support; he had a lot of people who loved and cared for him during that time, but I was privileged to be close enough to him to witness something amazing.
Within a month or two of meeting him, the church found out that the doctors were worried that his cancer was spreading, and they had to test the lymph nodes along his spine. This required a significant surgery; the surgeon would have to make an incision from his sternum to his pelvis, place the majority of his internal organs on the operating table (outside of his body), and begin to unwrap each lymph node from the nervous system. I was told that it would be a nine-hour surgery.
But prior to the surgery, my boss stepped into the story in a dramatic way. He began to coach Jason, and help his mind and spirit see the scalpel as a healing instrument. Rather than seeing this surgery as a traumatic event and doing all the things it does to fight off an intruder (i.e., bleed), my boss walked Jason through a series of meditations aimed to prepare his body for what was to come.
And so, Jason meditated on the scalpel day and night for the weeks prior to the surgery. It was a part of his morning meditation, his evening prayer, and his other musings. The morning of his surgery, I got to pray with him, anoint him with oil, and in the back of my mind, I thought of the Sirach 38.
Sirach 38 is a passage that points us to God’s work through a physician. We draw on this passage consciously, or subconsciously, whenever we pray for the hands of a surgeon or the mind of a doctor.
As I watched Jason go into pre-op, I thought about what were to be his next steps. He was supposed to be unconscious for a few days, wouldn’t start walking until the end of the week, and would be home a week later. But early the next morning, I received a phone call.
It was from Jason’s phone.
Panic is too strong a word to describe my initial thoughts. My fears crept into my mind; optimism pushed back, and suggested it was just his father keeping me up to date on what was going on. But nothing prepared me for what I heard next.
A stoned-sounding voice called through my receiver saying, “Duuuuuude. It’s Jaaassoon. I’m just calling to make sure you didn’t worry...”
Jason was supposed to be unconscious a few more days. But what else could I do except go back to the hospital and check what happened?
I never got a chance to talk to the doctor, but his father told me that Jason was cancer free, was responding incredibly well, and lost no blood during surgery. By the next day Jason was walking, and he was home within a few days of the operation.
Of course, we could chalk it up to a great surgeon, or the power of the body, or any number of things. Stranger things have happened. But Jesus raised people from the dead, Paul and Peter healed the sick, and the Holy Spirit really can’t be contained by anything.
There was something holy about what happened to Jason, and I’m grateful I had a chance to witness it. With today’s reflection pointing us to Sirach 38, I can’t help but think that there is more to a physician’s hand than education or skill or luck. I pray that’s God’s hand will be over the sick and those who care for them.