I write a fair bit about the mental game of living with chronic illness, and maybe that seems off-topic for a religion website. So let’s compare a tweet from an actual doctor who regularly sees patients with autoimmune diseases versus this morning’s Gospel.
First our tweet, and this is so typical of the experience of many patients with difficult-to-diagnose illnesses:
Just saw a teenager with autoimmune disease and #POTS who was sent to a certain "ability lab" outpatient rehab program, which included psychotherapy, group therapy and stretching. You might've guessed it that it made zero difference in her symptoms. The patient has no psychiatric…
— S Blitshteyn MD, Dysautonomia Clinic (@dysclinic) May 25, 2023
Now a Word from our Sponsor, from the readings for the Memorial of St. Justin Martyr:
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
Can you see the similarities? The patient above in the tweet has an actual disease with known diagnostic criteria and established treatments, and yet when she sought medical care, she got sent to therapy for “learn to live with it” “maybe if you just relax” “sure you’re just not anxious?”
In our Gospel, Bartimaeus is actually blind. It doesn’t get more obvious and diagnosable than that. Furthermore, he’s begging by the side of the road, which tells you: This is very disabling for him. So when he hears of someone who has actually treated this condition passing by, it is normal for him to seek some assistance, no?
And yet he gets told to hush. Just live with it, apparently? Don’t even both trying to see if something could be done?
But, just like the neurologist above (not my doctor, just someone I learn interesting stuff from on Twitter), Jesus isn’t playing that game:
But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
(Oh, now they tell Bartimaeus to have courage?? Yeah, the gaslighting is huge in this crowd.)
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
–> Let’s pause and point out here that Bartimaeus is definitely not the one lacking courage or faith in this story. In the ancient world, especially for someone in poverty, your cloak is a seriously expensive and essential possession. If you are blind and you are out on the road in a crowd and you walk away from that cloak, there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again.
Anyhow, Bartimaeus gets to Jesus and asks for help:
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
And at this point, Jesus does not tell him “Maybe you should work on your coping skills” nor “You know I see people way worse off than you.” Instead:
Jesus told him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
You can read the entire passage in context at Bible Gateway: Mark 10:46-52.
Conclusion: Yes, gaslighting people with intractable medical problems is as old as sin, and no Jesus doesn’t think you just need to learn to relax.
Turns out going to the doctor is the biblical thing to do when you are sick. So don’t listen to people who tell you to just hush and quit complaining. Keep searching until you find a physician who isn’t one of the fickle and faithless crowd.