Every patient, who is also a person, is the exception to the rule. My colleague Dr. Robert Lyman Potter (M.D., Ph.D.) highlights this point in his treatment of people as a medical ethicist. We must approach each person uniquely, including their treatment and prognosis.
I have been thinking increasingly about this theme. Certainly, this point applies to my son Christopher’s critical care situation resulting from a traumatic brain injury he suffered. It should also bear on how we treat one another as persons in every-day matters. Statistics and demographics only go so far. The mystery and dignity of each person goes as far as “the starry sky above” (to riff on Immanuel Kant in a new chord). With this point in mind, I have always admired my son for how, since his youth, Christopher has cherished the mystery and dignity of people who others would easily discount. They count to him. Son, your character and your person count of infinite worth to me!
The preceding reflections also call to my mind the Lord Jesus. He treated everyone he met as an exception to the rule. Here I recall his various individual encounters: from the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus (John 3) to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4); from the man who was lame by the pool of water (John 5) to the man born blind (John 9); from the leper whom he healed with the touch of his hand (Luke 5) to the woman with the issue of blood who was healed when she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8). The list goes on. More than anyone I have read about, come across, or encountered, Jesus cherished the mystery and dignity of each person, especially those others would easily discount.
Jesus met people where they were and affirmed their inherent dignity so much that he called upon them wherever possible to exercise their agency to experience healing. Take for example what Jesus said to the man who was lame, who could never make it into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred: “‘Do you want to get well?’…Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:6, 8-9; NIV). Consider, too, Jesus’ interaction with the man he healed of blindness: “After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (John 9:6-7; NIV). In each of these instances, Jesus involved them in the healing process, thereby affirming their human dignity. The man who was lame needed to get up. The same Jesus who asked this man if he wanted to be healed did not lift him up. Rather, he called upon this man who was lame to stand in response to Jesus’ healing power. The man who was born blind had to go wash off the mud in his eyes if he wished to be healed. Of course, there are times when Jesus simply healed people without requiring any involvement on their part in the healing process, as in raising Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead (John 11), or in raising the synagogue ruler’s daughter from the dead (Luke 8). Still, he called on Martha to believe and for the people to remove the stone from Lazarus’ tomb regardless of the stench of Lazarus being dead for three days (John 11). Jesus also called on the synagogue ruler to believe even as someone told Jairus to stop bothering Jesus since the ruler’s daughter was dead. Mourners also laughed at Jesus when he told them to stop crying, claiming the dead girl was only asleep. Jesus paid no attention to the mocking mourners. He fixed his attention on the dead girl (Luke 8). Not only was he the attending physician. He was also the attentive physician.
I find these two accounts so moving, especially in my present time of need with my son’s critical care situation, that I will quote the texts here. Here is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:38-44; NIV)
Here is the account of Jesus raising the synagogue ruler’s daughter from the dead:
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”
Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened (Luke 8:49-56; NIV).
Jesus was the great physician of body and the soul who cares for every person’s sickness, whether physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual. He treated every human patient as being inviolable and incommunicable in worth and fundamentally unique. No matter our occupation, whether we belong to the health care profession or some other field, we can deepen our engagement with others. Everyone we meet is the exception to the rule. Jesus engages us in this manner. Each of us is the exception to the rule. Jesus encounters each of us uniquely. He calls upon us in our various life situations to believe—no matter the circumstances, no matter if there are large grave stones and putrid odors, no matter if people are telling you to stop bothering Jesus or laughing at him. Will we lift our hearts, rise from our beds, and believe?