The other day, I called a parishioner who was to begin chemotherapy in a few days. I wanted to schedule a visit with him for Communion and Anointing before the chemo began. He asked if I knew of any specific blessing or prayer for chemotherapy. He was looking for something that spoke specifically to the eradication of the cancerous cells, and the thriving of the healthy cells. I told him that I didn’t know of anything off the top of my head, but I would do some searching. As of yet, I have not found anything specific, but my thoughts did turn to a specific parable.
My parishioner’s talk of ridding the bad cells, and keeping the healthy ones, made me think of the parable of the Weeds in the Wheat (Matt. 13: 24-30). There seem to be so many parallels here. And, actually, at first glance, I was hesitant to reflect upon this passage. From the surface, I thought that this text could actually be used to discourage a treatment like chemotherapy. The master thought that in trying to gather the weeds, some healthy wheat would be gathered up and lost. So, the servants were to wait until harvest time, and then the weeds were to be gathered to be sent to the fire.
After some reflection though, I changed my mind. The parable is clearly eschatological. Jesus begins, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed…” and the emphasis on the time of the harvest when the weeds will be burned places our perspectives firmly on the horizon of time. God’s Reign is one where all the wickedness of the enemy who sowed these weeds will be ended.
Therefore, the problem is not, I think one with the parable. Instead the issue seems to be one with our modern notions of medicine. We have ripped medicine from its eschatological moorings in God’s action in the world. Jesus’ preaching was one the proclaimed the beginning of God’s Reign in the world, “Repent and be baptized. The Reign of God has come near.” Part of that proclamation then was also manifested in his miraculous deeds, and some of those deeds were healings.
Our healing is always something that comes from the power of God. Too often we perceive healing to come from doctors or modern pharmaceuticals. In many ways, we lose any perception of God being present in the healing at all. And healing is almost always exclusive to the removal of symptoms and restoration to a previous state. Healing, properly understood however, is something that should look forward to the ultimate restoration of all things. Here and now, healing should point us forward, not back. The healing visited upon us should have us not look forward to a previous state of our bodies, but should have us look forward to and anticipate the Reign of God.
So in my parishioner’s case, I went to him and read this parable. We talked about the parallels in this parable, the burning of the weeds and the chemotherapy’s burning of the cancerous cells. We talked about medicine and healing being a foretaste of the Reign of God, and that he would be taking an oral chemo drug. Then, I anointed him, and we shared in the Eucharist, as we looked forward to that time when we gather around the throne and share with all believers the great and promised feast.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.