It can be hard sometimes to think about what ‘life was like’ in the ancient days, especially when it comes to medicine. With so many contemporary advances in medical technology and pharmacology, we forget that doctors are not a modern invention. Science and medicine have been part of life, and part of the Church from the very beginning, but that isn’t to say things haven’t changed.
Today is the Feast of St Luke the Evangelist. He was a physician who worked alongside St Paul in the missionary filed. He wrote a Gospel and the Book of Acts. In honor of this feast today, I wanted to focus on the relationship between faith and science, which seems to be a little rocky lately. Take a moment and read the Gospel lesson for today.
The Lord said to his disciples, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." – Luke 10.16-21
“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this….but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” This is the verse in my mind today. With so many modern medical innovations and ‘wonder-drugs’ it can be easy to forget that we are not supposed to be focused on NOW, but heaven. We seem to forget that medicine is not meant to help us live forever, but to give us a chance to repent before we die. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked upon deathbeds and wondered, “A hundred years ago, this person would already be gone.”
How can we make our way back to a healthy perspective when it comes to medicine and our physical health? First, I think we need to REPENT (change our point of view according to the Greek word μετανοείτε) and listen intently to the verse in today’s Gospel. Is your heart on earth with your family, friends, and possessions? I have also known many deathbed patients who ‘hold on’ not because they are afraid of death, but because they are worried about the family being left behind. Do not rejoice in your family, but rejoice that your name is written in heaven.
Second, long before we are sick, we need to live like heaven is our goal. Would you hesitate to enter into the theater on opening night as an actor if you had been working your entire professional life for ‘this moment’ on the big stage? Would you ignore the exit to your destination on the highway after traveling days to get there? To quote St Paul, “Now I’m speaking in human terms.” (Romans 6.19) We would like to think that our journey to heaven is more important than the stage or some random road trip, but in truth we treat them much the same.
Most of the time, we include our spiritual journey to heaven as among our priorities, but rarely AS our priority. Growing up, school and extracurricular activities are ‘a must’ for a good college reference, so we are willing to miss Church using the excuse that we must be prepared for a ‘well-rounded’ life. We graduate from college and ‘spend some time’ establishing our life, so we can’t always be in Church. Then marriage, our own children, etc. until eventually we are on our deathbed afraid of what we will miss in the life of our family. Preparing for heaven may have been among our priorities, but when did we just once put it first?
I don’t mean to bash a good college reference, or a good job. Both are part of a ‘good life’ on earth, which is even part of our prayers at weddings. Unfortunately, we miss the second half of those same prayers, “to be blessing to others.” Returning to the verse for today, “Do not rejoice in that college reference (or good job, etc) ….but rejoice that your name is written in heaven.” When heaven IS our priority, then the relationship between faith and science will have its proper focus.