I headed to Pittsfield in our Ford Ranger via the Hinsdale Flats, putting the truck into 3rd gear as I crossed the bridge over the railroad – wanting to stay clear of the Hinsdale constabulary.
When I pulled into the parking deck of Berkshire Medical Center I was thankful to see an empty space in the clergy parking area, otherwise I would have had to have likely driven to the top of the parking deck to find a space. Upon entering the hospital I obtained Jean Claude’s room number from the information desk and proceeded to his room. Jean Claude was in a double room, in a bed over by the window; the other bed was vacant.
“I’m Dave Jenkins’s pastor. I heard you weren’t feeling too well and thought I’d come see you.”
We chatted for about 15 minutes, after which I laid my hands on him and prayed and then headed back to Becket.
Now it takes about 30 minutes or so to get from the Berkshire Medical Center to my office in Becket. I didn’t go via Hinsdale Flats but over Washington Mountain Road – I seldom returned from Pittsfield the same way I came – it made the drive a bit more interesting.
When I left Jean Claude I was thinking that I was glad I made the trip to see him. Hopefully I could build a relational bridge with him and his family, hopefully I could share the love and grace of Christ with him, hopefully I’d get to know him in the months and years ahead. That’s what I was thinking – I was glad I’d made the visit.
It’s funny the way different people can have different views of the same event – I was glad I’d seen Jean Claude – but little did I know that Jean Claude wasn’t glad that he’d seen me; in fact Jean Claude was pretty upset – so upset that he got on the phone and called Dave Jenkins.
“Dave,” Jean Claude said, “your priest was just here to visit me.”
“Yeah, he said he was going to see you,” Dave replied.
“I must be worse off than the doctors are telling me. I must be going to die.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, your priest came to see me.”
“What’s that got to do with you dying Jean Claude?”
“He must have come to give me Last Rites. Priests only come to see you in the hospital when you are going to die. The doctors aren’t telling me the truth about my condition.”
Jean Claude was Catholic. Of course you and I know that Roman Catholic priests make hospital visits just like Protestant ministers, you don’t have to be near death to warrant a hospital visit – but Jean Claude, not being what you’d call a regular communicant, didn’t know that. So when I introduced myself as Dave’s pastor Jean Claude figured that I had come because he was going to die.
Dave explained to Jean Claude that as far as he knew Jean Claude wasn’t at death’s door and thereby granted the sick man some relief – the thing is that the whole story is bittersweet. There is an element that is humorous – Jean Claude thought I was there because he was so sick that he was going to die and that, of course, wasn’t the case at all. Or was it?
You see the death rate in our nation is 100%, and all the taxes we pay and all the medical research we do and all the drugs we take can’t make a dent in that statistic. Yet, most of us live like we are either the exception to the rule or that we actually think that death is the end of existence; and so we live however we want without regard to the possibility that this life is a segment of our existence with eternal consequences.
I did indeed visit Jean Claude because he is going to die. Everyone I visit, whether in the hospital or at home or in the coffee shop, I visit because they are going to die. The friendships I have I have because my friends and I are gong to die – and that means that I view my friendships not as transitory utilitarian experiences, but rather as relationships that will continue into eternity. To be sure I have friendships and other relationships in which the other person does not know Christ, and this means that the person does not have the life of the eternal New Creation in Christ living in him or her – but it is always my hope and prayer that the other person will come to know Jesus Christ, just as one day over 40 years ago I came to know Christ through Howard Wall, a coworker who developed a relationship with me that led to a relationship with Christ.
The bitter part of Jean Claude’s story is that later on he would demonstrate overt opposition to the Gospel – of course the last chapter of his life has not been written and if Christ can bring me out of the cesspool He can certainly draw Jean Claude to Himself. (In case you are wondering – Jean Claude is not this man’s real name, and other elements of the story have been changed as well for purposes of confidentiality.)
Well now, since the dead rate is 100%, how shall we live today?