I’m home now, resting after major surgery in another city. I can’t bend over to pick up anything I’ve dropped or lift anything heavier than a jug of milk for the next few weeks. Sitting for more than the length of a quick meal is still uncomfortable, but couch time with a pile of good books and a remote in hand is actually a guilty pleasure – with a built-in excuse.
It’s raining. The streets are glare ice and our home and garden are still under several feet of saturated snow after the heaviest snowfall in decades. I don’t plan to go anywhere and thus far the house remains mostly dry inside.The storm of the last week is over. My husband is back at work and there is time to think.
Before we left, on the one day the roads were in good condition before the second storm hit, someone asked the question, “In your reading of Jesus’ words lately what stands out the most?”
I recently watched the film “The Gospel of John” which uses the scripture as the entire dialogue of the screenplay. What I heard Jesus say over and over again was this: I’m telling you the truth. In the olde King James version I grew up with he said, “Verily, verily.” In the original language of the Bible he said “Amen, Amen…” When amen was said at the end of a statement it meant “I agree.” When Amen prefaced a statement it meant, “I’m about to say something important.” When a word was repeated it meant “I am about to say something truly important. I’m serious here, folks.”
In the gospel of John alone Jesus says amen amen before a statement at least twenty times. I asked myself why.
This week I discovered what it is like not to be taken seriously about an issue that was important to me. Two days after being released from the hospital after major abdominal surgery I suddenly doubled over in severe pain. I’ve had this kind of pain before. It felt like I was passing a kidney stone. I was staying in a small town about an hour out of the city resting up for the next part of the trip home. I slowly crawled up the stairs on hands and knees and asked to be driven to the hospital emergency room since our host could get me there faster than an ambulance.
Kidney stones hurt. When your belly has just been cut open, things moved and removed, and then sewn back up, kidney stones really, really hurt. The power words I have been saving up for moments of high drama seemed inadequate. And “Verily, verily, I hurteth,” was not going to cut it.
I told my driver to move her car out of the ambulance bay to a parking spot because I thought I would be okay walking to the triage desk myself.
Wrong. I clung to a wall trying not to pass out from pain. The lady behind the desk ignored me. Another patient in the waiting room ran and brought a wheelchair, but then I just sat there in the middle of the hallway unable to propel myself. Eventually my driver came back and pushed me up to the glass door in front of the triage desk. After waiting a period of time, which probably felt longer than it actually was, a person took my information.
“On a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst pain you…
“Ten!!!” I gasped.
“Take this paper to the desk [way over there] with your health insurance card, fill out the admissions form, and have a seat in the waiting room. We’ll call you,” she said.
I had just come from one of the finest surgical centers in the country. I had a team of nurses and technicians who cared for me around the clock, helped me breathe, helped me sit up, put on my slippers and helped me go to the bathroom. They even flushed for me. Now I sat in a hard plastic chair, squirming, shaking and sweating, wondering if lying on the floor would be a better option. They didn’t call me for nearly two hours. (Thank God prayer was more efficient and the pain level had lowered by then.)
They didn’t believe me.
When drug addicts become known at the larger city hospitals they start hitting the smaller outlying health services seeking relief from withdrawal. The people at this hospital didn’t know me. Perhaps they thought I was drug-seeking. They had seen it before. Perhaps they didn’t believe me because they didn’t know me or my character.
It wasn’t until late in the evening, when the pain subsided and after my family helped me back into bed at home, that the emergency room doctor called and said the x-rays proved I was telling the truth. That’s when he asked if I needed pain medication.
Now my news was not good news. Unlike Jesus I was not there for anyone’s benefit but my own. But in that experience I felt what it was like not to be believed despite the best evidence I could produce.
Today I watched the film again. In this part (midway through this scene) Jesus tells them who he is. He reminds them of the witness of John the Baptist.
They do not believe him.
They shrug as if saying, “Yeah. We’ve seen people with selfish motives before. We’ve heard lies before. We’ve been deceived and disappointed before.”
Jesus says over and over “I am telling you the truth!” Then he says something which cuts to the heart of their disbelief.
“I’m telling you the truth! I can only do what my Father tells me. You don’t know me because you don’t know my Father!”
These were the religious experts, the ones who told everyone else who God was and what he wanted. What a politically incorrect, offensive statement in that place, at the heart of religious government!
I have a drawer full of greeting cards ready to send in polite acknowledgement of special occasions. People also send them to me. Some are carefully chosen after reading dozens in the store display, but sometimes they just come from a box bought at the dollar store because you need to stick a card (that a kid will never read) on a birthday gift. Sometimes I read the gospels and skim over the verily, verily passages like I am reading a stack of birthday or get well cards full of sentiments written by card designers who don’t have a clue who I am. Thank you. That’s nice, Jesus.
But do I really hear him? He looks me in the face and asserts with a strong tone:
I am telling you the truth,” Jesus replied. “Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’.”
I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.
I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.
I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete.
Do we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is? Do we treat his statements like nice sayings in a greeting card? Do we truly believe he is telling the truth?