World Day of the Sick: a call to reach out
Today is a special awareness day, the World Day of the Sick. Do we really need such a day of observance? Yes, because they should not be forgotten or feel excluded or, worse, lost. The sick among us belong in the middle of the congregation, in the middle of our hearts.
It was instituted as an awareness day in 1993, but there still the forgotten sick. Like little Tobias, who lives in a small room in his parents’ apartment and is hidden away from others. As soon as visitors arrive, the room is locked. Only his parents and closest friends know that Tobias exists. He suffers from multiple physical and intellectual disabilities.
People’s reactions to this story will likely range from utter incomprehension to understanding. Why is that? There are deep historical and cultural reasons. Just as the parents cannot be condemned wholesale for hiding away their son, neither can those be stigmatized as evil who condemn the behaviour of the parents. After all, they have heard nothing else all their lives.
Is illness a consequence of sin? No!
That people who are ill have done something wrong is a widespread misconception. And it has always been a misconception. Already the Bible tells us that sick people were denied the brighter side of life. Those suffering from leprosy were driven out of society and forced to live on the outskirts of the town. People who suffered from seizures were regarded with suspicion and were thought to be possessed. It was better not to have anything to do with them. Illness was considered as clear proof that sin had been committed.
Illness as a punishment for sin! Modern theology has a word for this: the doctrine of retribution. This principle was widespread in the Ancient Orient and is still around. Blaming illness on religion is not something that comes from doctors or science, but from theologians and priests. Jesus, who grew up in this area of tension, categorically rejected such thinking. In response to a corresponding question from His disciples, He explicitly contradicted the interpretation that illness is a consequence of sin: “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him’” (John 9: 2–3). Here, and particularly in Luke, the focal point of theological thought is not exorcism. Instead, reference is made to the medical art of healing. Jesus is a physician, not an exorcist. It is not a coincidence that Jesus says about the Roman centurion that He never found such great faith, not even in Israel; namely, that a disease can be cured even though the sick person is a sinner (cf. Matthew 8: 5–13).
In the end, it was Jesus Himself who had to suffer, was tortured and publicly executed without ever having committed a sin. His selfless sacrifice is proof that illness and death are not expressions of sin.
What about today?
Enough history. What about today, how does modern man think? The World Day of the Sick is an excellent opportunity to occupy oneself with the sick, either by thinking about them or getting in touch with them. “Why don’t you call,” Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider appealed to the congregations not so long ago. Calling or even visiting those who are sick is not difficult. As a matter of fact, it is always rewarding. Those who care for the sick are following the example of Jesus Christ: “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25: 40).
And above all, this awareness day is a special opportunity to voice our appreciation and respect for all the health-care workers: doctors, nurses, the staff in nursing and seniors’ homes, and those who provide in-home care.
Illness is a part of life. Now, during the pandemic, we realise just how fragile the human being is. An extraordinarily small virus, invisible to our eyes, is taking its toll on humanity. Let us heal each other by praying for each other, wishing each other well, and calling each other from time to time.
Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz / adobe.com