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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Living the dream

Micah 6:8 has been called the “supreme definition of ethical religion.” You may recall that this verse is the summation of a courtroom drama, where humankind (God’s people) are brought up on the charge that they have broken the covenant (I will be their God and they will be my people) by wandering off on their own. Under cross examination, humankind crumbles and quickly asks, “how can I make this up—what penalty do I need to pay?” The ‘judge’ responds by chiding humankind, with the reminder that God is not asking for empty sacrifice and dead penance, but for life itself:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
This verse has become the course motto for my community nursing class. Social advocacy in a nutshell: justice balanced by mercy informed by authentic humility. As nurses seek to advocate for vulnerable populations, and to make policy and program decisions that mete out limited resources, this verse is both a touchstone and a beacon.

It seems as though we cannot separate out our attitudes and inner drives, our heart, from our actions. The image of justice as being blind and ruthless, armed with cold steel, is not the image of justice in Micah. Love, mercy, humility, faith … these are both virtues and actions grown from the heart, honed from a mind intent on choosing good by choosing God.

An interesting parallel to this Micah passage occurred to me today. My nephew is a first year college student and is currently writing a term paper for his New Testament class on the narrative of the centurion. In this story, recorded in Luke 7, a Roman centurion has a slave who is ill and dying. When the centurion hears about Jesus, he appeals to the Jewish elders to approach Jesus on his behalf, to ask him to heal his slave. When Jesus answers the request and is near his house, the centurion actually sends out messengers to stop Jesus from traveling any farther, because he believes that he is unworthy to have Jesus enter his house; also, because his faith tells him that, should he choose, Jesus can heal from any distance.
I’m thinking, what an example of living out Micah 6:8. I’m thinking, wow, this centurion might have made one amazing nurse!

First, this Roman centurion, this national symbol of hate and tyranny to the Jewish people, acts with justice and with mercy when he advocates for a vulnerable person, the lowest of the low: a sick, dying slave. Then, in the process of his advocacy, he does not commandeer an audience with Jesus directly. Instead, he works within the existing infrastructure in an established partnership he has already forged with the grass-roots leadership. The Jewish elders actually vouch for him to Jesus. Did you get that? The Jewish leaders actually vouch for a Roman.The centurion’s humility is further demonstrated when he sends his messengers to tell Jesus that he ‘gets’ that Jesus does not need to trouble himself to make a direct house call! The patient’s outcome? The text reads: "When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave in good health." Not simply ‘better,’ or experiencing the ‘absence of disease,’ but in good health.

Wellness, the ultimate dream of social justice. I like to think of that slave, the patient in this story. I like to think that this amazing act of merciful advocacy from a heart filled with faith, a life lived in humility and action in equal proportion, was a transforming event for this patient. Yes, I believe in the Healer, but I also acknowledge the healer in this drama. Advocacy and action honed from a heart of compassion, mercy and faith—what a gift that this patient received. Through the transforming act of living out justice and mercy in humility, knowing our place in the universe under God, we can as ‘small h’ healers catalyze ultimate wellness, not simply physical healing, for our vulnerable patients.

God speed, nurses!

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