October 26, 2011 3:00 p.m.
(Note: This address was given at the worship service celebrating the anniversary of St. Luke's International Hospital. On this occasion, employees who have worked 10, 20, and 30 years were recognized, as were volunteers who have served from 100 hours to 22,000 hours. In attendance were the chairman of the board, the president and vice-presidents, and various department heads, as well the long-term employees recognized and many of the 380 volunteers who serve the hospital.)
We just read about Jesus declaring war.
Like many a politician, at the start of his public career Jesus returns to his hometown, to Nazareth, the place where he might expect his strongest support base. There, he gives his inaugural speech. He goes public with his agenda, lays out his vision for the road ahead.
And the vision he lays out is one of war.
But what kind of war? Not the kind of war his fellow countrymen were hoping for, one that would liberate them from the yoke of Roman imperial oppression. Not the kind of war that involves airstrikes, or guerilla attacks, or indeed any shedding of enemy blood. Not the kind of war that involves the toppling of governments or the seizing of territory.
Not that kind of war. But if not that kind of war, then what kind? Look at what Jesus says:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (Luke 4:18-19)So, he's talking about fighting a war against grinding poverty; against debilitating sickness; against physical, emotional, and spiritual bondage; against social oppression and injustice. In other words, it is a war against the powers of darkness that rule the human race with an iron hand.
What do all these things have in common? They distort the human person. They make it impossible to live humanly, in freedom. Jesus is going to war to restore the human person, a being with dignity and value and purpose. A being, in short, made in the image of God.
This is the fundamental understanding revealed to us by God in the Bible: Every human person is a being of great wonder and irreplaceable value, beloved by his Creator, made with care and intent.
At the same time the Bible reveals that every human person, and humanity as a whole, is set upon by powers of darkness, powers that work against God's purposes and seek to deface and destroy God's creation. And, precisely because human beings are created in God's image and endowed by God with dignity and value, these powers of darkness strive hard to rob us of our humanness.
This is the understanding revealed to us by the light of Holy Scripture.
These powers of darkness wage battle on many fronts. They work through individual sin and moral weakness and greed, through self-interest and a disinterest in the suffering of others. They work through injustice, and social evils such as strife, hunger, poverty. They work through so-called tragedies such as sickness and natural disasters.
Jesus at the beginning of his career stands up against all these forms of evil and declares: No more!
And every thing Jesus did from this point on in his life was a full-scale assault on these forces of darkness. He healed the sick. He set free those who were in bondage to evil spirits. He befriended the friendless. He comforted the grieving and those who were afraid. He hung out with people society considered worthless, the losers. He taught generosity in the sharing of material blessings. He condemned leaders who failed in their duty to protect the weak.
This was Jesus' lifework, his mission, his war.
It is our war, too. This hospital was founded to be a stronghold, an outpost in the war against the powers of darkness that threaten the human person. So, as a hospital we are also called to fight, taking our cue from Jesus Christ:
- We are called to carry out medical approaches that foster health, cure disease, and aid long life.
- We are called to alleviate pain and improve the quality of life of those who suffer.
- We are called to help patients and their families face the end of life with courage and dignity.
- We are called to help realize the physical, emotional, and spiritual flourishing of each patient, in their particular family and social contexts.
So this hospital is called to engage in the war. But so is each one of us. We fight back against the powers of darkness whenever we, as individuals, take hold of the life we have been given, and respond with gratitude in service to others. Each of us can become an outpost of light in the darkness when we use our God-given talents and time in the service of human flourishing.
God gives wisdom and courage to those who are willing to join in the fight against the darkness. Once again, let us pray together for that wisdom and courage, and ask God's blessing on our work in the year to come.