Imagine a guy who spent years training to be a doctor. His studies consumed every waking moment. He washed his hands meticulously every time he walked through a door, touched a tap or met a patient. He studied the text books, observed experienced surgeons and memorised symptoms and dosage guidelines.
Finally, after shedding blood, sweat and tears, he graduates…but never sees a patient. Instead he devotes all his knowledge to his own self care. He prides himself on being able to diagnose his own headaches, on having the ability to steer clear of illnesses that strike others down each winter and proudly displays his qualifications on the living room wall.
What would you say to such a man? Surely it is obvious that he has missed the entire point of gaining the medical knowledge. He has the ability to heal and do good, but is instead obsessed with himself in a way which is, ironically, unhealthy.
Imagine another trainee doctor. She works just as hard as the first guy, sacrificing her own time and energy reserves to become the best doctor possible. Yes she reads text books, but she also goes out in ambulances just to ride-along and observe, learning all the time. She does extra shifts on the ward and stays after class to ask more questions.
When she graduates she throws off her university gown and quickly dons her white coat (which does not stay white for long) as she rushes to the poorest part of town where children are dying from preventable disease…she embraces the sick and works hard to see them restored back to full health. She occasionally gets ill herself, but that is part of the job.
What would you say to such a woman? Well done! You have clearly understood the point of medicine and are a great doctor!
Our readings over the last couple of days show the transition that the Jewish followers of Jesus were having to make in their understanding of God and who it was that He liked exactly.
For centuries they had studied the scriptures and listened to religious leaders explain that the very best way to worship God was to remain pure. Follow the law-code exactly. Don’t allow any ‘sickness’ anywhere near you…don’t eat the food that the pagans eat, don’t marry the women who come from other faiths, wash thoroughly before going to the temple, give 10% of your money away etc etc.
Their thinking was that if they did this, and did it perfectly – they would know God fully and demonstrate his holy character to the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, Jesus did not get this memo! His way is not to keep any advanced knowledge to ourselves, but to rush out to the neighbourhoods and ghettos and war-zones and schools which are full of people living without the knowledge that they are loved by the God who made the stars.
Doctors are not meant to keep all that they know to themselves. Neither are we.
Peter, who had till this point, kept himself ‘pure’ (not eaten forbidden foods, not associated with people from other belief-traditions) dramatically discovers that the Spirit of God is serious about ALL PEOPLE discovering the grace and peace of Jesus. That same Jesus makes a habit of healing all people, whether their illness is physical, or emotional, or an addiction, or pride, or low self-esteem, or institutional racism or whatever…
Another wonderful (though perhaps slightly less globally profound) lesson from this passage of the Bible is that till that point bacon was off the menu. Praise God that this is no longer the case!