Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Daniel 3:25, 34-43
As an urgent care physician, most of my days at work are filled with common maladies such as sore throats and sprains, cuts and coughs. Occasionally, either due to denial or desperation, a more serious situation will present itself. Such was the case recently when a man arrived at our center, severely short of breath. He was brusque with the staff and greeted me with an obvious air of suspicion. As his story was unfolded to me…60 pack-years of smoking, no regular or routine health care, it would have been easy to detach myself and judge his condition as self-inflicted.
As we continued our discourse, his anger began to give way to the fear that was driving it, and soon he was pleading with me. "Please give me something to make me better. I can’t climb the stairs to my apartment without stopping many times along the way. I can’t sleep because I wake up choking. I can’t work because I don’t have the strength or breath for the two-mile walk to get there." Eventually, his words turned to sobs as his wife sat silently nearby.
After some testing, an x-ray, and treatments given to make him more comfortable, we gathered again in the tiny room to face the fact now revealed…a large tumor occupying his right lung. This vulnerable soul at the foot of the cross.
I had been pondering our readings for today for some time prior to meeting this patient. Both readings detail accounts of individuals, like my patient, in desperate situations.
In the reading from Daniel, we hear the prayer of Azariah (Abednego) as he, Shadrach and Meschach are pleading for their lives as the fiery furnace is being stoked. Our reading today from Matthew’s Gospel is the final section of a larger discourse that is often called the "church order" discourse or the "Discourse on Community". It includes the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in addition to today’s Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, we hear the pleading words of the servant as he falls down in homage before his master. In each of these readings, the ultimate call is to reconciliation, right relationship.
The Proto-Indo-European origins of the word, plea, bear the meaning to smooth out or to make flat. Similarly, the Middle English roots of the word, reconcile, mean to make good again, to reconsecrate.
Most of us do not pass the day without an awareness of the spoken and unspoken pleading voices in our world, in our communities, in our own families. How do they transform us? How do we reconcile?
Dr. Capper Rademaker is a longtime friend and partner of the Passionists in Louisville, Kentucky.