I know that sounds harsh, and I don't mean it as such, but it truly causes us to completely approach ministry in many different ways. My co-workers and I have discussed this. One has been in pastoral ministry for many years and we have agreed that this approach to pastoral care is very different from when we do pastoral care to our parishioners in the hospital.
Here, respect above all else seems to be the underlying approach. We can't go into a hospital room and begin trying to "convert" people. I know this has been many a temptation for people who have done CPE in the past. I acknowledge that if this is the focus of one's theology, this can be very frustrating to that person. However, walking into a room with this agenda (or really any agenda other than providing the best emotional/spiritual care that you can) will quickly frustrate the patient on who's behalf we are there.
So many things...so many approaches in the "Christianity" that I grew up in I began realizing long ago are upside down from the gospel. Even when Jesus said, "the last shall be first", I know of very few Christians in the last two centuries that heard this "good news" and hustled to the BACK of the line! No, we're still pushing, pulling, betraying, and jockeying for a better position on the socio-economic ladder. This is not just true in business, but in all aspects of the contemporary life in the US (and most of the world).
I chose the words of a familiar hymn in my Baptist upbringing, whose lyrics encourage us as Christians to: "Let others see Jesus in you, Let others see Jesus in you. Keep telling the story, be faithful and true; Let others see Jesus in you."
I was thinking about this the other day in my reflection, when a prayer from Mother Teresa "On Being The Church" was read during our morning devotion time. The prayer clicked automatically with EXACTLY what I was thinking.
May I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and whilst nursing them minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you and say: 'Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.' Lord, give me this seeing faith, then my work will never be monotonous. I will ever find joy in humoring the fancies and gratifying the wishes of all poor sufferers. O beloved sick, how doubly dear you are to me, when you personify Christ and what a privilege is mine to be allowed to tend you.
There is a little more to the prayer, but this is that to which I keep returning. My thoughts had been on how much my experience and education in the field of Church ministry has been to think and teach the exact opposite. Yes, we are supposed to be a model of Christ, the light of the world. But how often do we teach...do we think in terms of searching for Christ in other people? Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
When was the last time that we looked for Christ in others? When have we looked at an irritable person, a person infirm, of differing theology, or even of differing religions and said, "hmmm... you know what? I see Christ in them!" To many Christians this is inconceivable! To actually be able to glimpse Christ or God in someone of a different faith, theology, or philosophy! No, we're too busy pushing our own agendas and protecting our own insecure beliefs that we dare not look too closely for "truth" in a person that differs from us. Yet Christ didn't place any parameters on who we should treat like Christ, and who Christ would revel himself through in the world. He didn't say, "only whe those Christians who are sick, that you took care of , only then will you be taking care of me." No, he said ANYONE that we meet, made in God's own image, when we are interacting with them, we are interacting with Christ. In some unexplainable, tough to comprehend way...they too are Christ.
So while we are busy teaching others to see Jesus in us... why not take the time and really challenge ourselves. Challenge ourselves to see Christ in the least likely people and places. In "the least of these". We may find ourselves and especially our understanding, of God, Christ, and the 'good news' being stretched and reshaped. Maybe then we will think about not trying to always be the first in line, and regain our perspective of where we truly are called to be in this world!