The Hospital Chaplain on Call
I am a hospital chaplain to a hospital that is about 16 miles from where I live. When I am on call, and my pager goes off, I am expected to show up at the hospital within half an hour. On a day and at a time with no traffic, it takes me about 20-to-25 minutes to get to the hospital from my home. Last week, I was paged at 4:50 a.m. Thank God, I was already awake. I quickly got my sick call bag and got into my car. A catholic patient was actively dying. Family requested sacrament of the sick. Every priest I have spoken to on this matter feels guilty when a patient dies before they arrive. It was still dark, and traffic was not horrible at 5:00 a.m. I could comfortably make it to the hospital in less than the stipulated half an hour. But the Catholic Priest in me wished I could make it in 30 seconds, just to be sure the Patient was still alive when I arrived. But I had many obstacles on my way. Even though the road was free of traffic, I could not just have my foot on the gas pedal (throttle) at will. On the streets, I had to drive at a speed that makes the bicycle look like a jet. I had to stop at stop signs even when there were no other cars around. I don’t know about you, but all the traffic lights usually turn red for me whenever I am running late. Thank God, I met the patient alive, and I administered the sacrament of the sick.
But what if the patient died a few minutes before I arrived. I wonder why I had to stop at stop signs even when I was the only one on the road. Maybe next time, I will run the red light to make it on time. If the road is free next time, I will drive a 100 miles / hour. No, I won’t try those because if the police stop me, apart from the ticket, they will keep me for additional half an hour. I think it makes more sense to just follow the law and avoid the police.
That was me looking at the world only from my point of convenience. What if I look at the bigger picture? It is true that I am running to save a soul 16 miles away. What about the safety of other motorists? The law requires me to stop at the stop sign not to make me go late, but to be sure that everyone else is safe along the way. I stop when the traffic light turns red, not because I need to avoid the police, but because I need to be safe, and to keep others safe. That is the bigger picture.
The Cunning Volunteer: Eve and the Serpent
Adam and Eve just had their lunch after doing some gardening in the morning. Adam is taking a nap, while Eve is gazing at the birds jumping from one branch to another. Something hisses behind her; she quickly turns around. Sighting the unexpected guest, she says, “May I help you?” The serpent replies, “On the contrary, I think I am here to help you.” “In what way are you here to help me?” Eve asks. The Serpent continues, “I just want to show you the one-stop solution to all your problems. It is the fruit that God told you not to eat. Just eat it, and you will come back to thank me.” Eve gives a nod to the suggestion. She gets up, plucks the fruit, gives it a bite, and shares with her husband.
What just happened? They ate the forbidden fruit, but they did not die. They also realized something they did not know. They were naked all the while, but they did not know it until they ate the forbidden fruit. But why did God forbid them from eating the fruit? Did the serpent have better plans for them than God did for them? If God created them and shared his breath with them, why not the forbidden fruit? If God gave them the gift of the garden, why did he withhold the forbidden fruit?
One thing that stands out for me is that God is the master architect. He has the bigger picture. It is possible that the command to keep away from the forbidden fruit was temporary. It was all about the timing. He created Adam and Eve, and he created the fruit. He knew the right time that eating the fruit would benefit them, their descendants, and the rest of creatures. God knows the bigger picture; it is all about the timing. It is like me driving to the hospital. The makers of the law know the bigger picture. They know where it is safe for me to keep driving, they know where it is safer for me to stop. They don’t hate me. It is all about the timing, it is all about the bigger picture, and it is all about caring for all.
Jesus Considered the Bigger Picture
Jesus has come to fix what was broken. He needs to focus to know exactly what the diagnosis is to get the right treatment. He looks at the vast land, he finds a rock to serve as his chair. He has not had anything to eat or drink for forty days and nights. He is thinking of the next step to take. Then that uninvited guest shows up. He succeeded in the Garden of Eden. He believes he will succeed again. “How may I help you?” Jesus asks. Like he said to Eve, he also says to Jesus, “I think, I am the one to help you. I see you are hungry. Since you are the Son God, change these stones to loaves of bread and eat.” Unlike Eve, Jesus did not accept the suggestion.
What is the difference between the Garden of Eden and this desert? In the Garden, Adam and Eve did not consider the timing, they did not consider the bigger picture. Jesus paid attention to the timing. It was not impossible for him to change the stones to loaves of bread. It was all about the timing. When the time was right, he changed water into wine, and he multiplied loaves of bread and fish. He was also interested in the bigger picture. Changing stones to bread at that time was not part the bigger picture for our salvation. So, he looked beyond his ego, he was not ready to prove anything to the devil, because he was concerned about me, he was concerned about you. Adam and Eve did not consider me, they did not consider you, and so they got us into trouble.
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. The serpent is still knocking on our doors. He claims he wants to help us. Before we respond, before me take any step, we must ask ourselves: Can the serpent love me more than the God who created me? Is this the right time to take this step? What is the bigger picture? How does this affect other people? How does this step affect future generations? May the voice of the Holy Spirit in us overcome the voice of the Serpents around us until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.