In the book, Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, Dr. Thomas Stone asks his medical school students, “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” The students were baffled. Undoubtedly they tried to access what they had learned regarding medical procedures, surgeries and medications that could be administered by ear in an emergency and could think of none. Then unexpectedly one of the students responded, “Words of comfort.” And he was correct.
In the Gospel, Jesus is trying to administer words of comfort to the crowds (John 6:51-58). Certainly in those crowds were people who were very ill, extremely troubled, confused or even traumatized by the circumstances of their lives. Perhaps they were seeking fail safe remedies, dramatic healings, or clear direction on how to make things better. What they got were Jesus’ words telling them that he is the living bread that came down from heaven and that those who eat this bread will live forever. He does not give them remedies, solutions, or clear directions. He gives them words of comfort. He is trying to reassure them that no matter what is happening in their lives, he is the bread that will sustain them.
In emergencies, there are often many things that can be done. There are medical procedures, medications, financial assistance, psychological interventions, technological courses of action, spiritual wisdoms. Certainly, treatment that will help needs to be sought. At the same time, emergencies can be so overwhelming and complex that we get stuck thinking there is nothing we can do. As those who are nourished by the life giving bread of the Eucharist, we do well to remember that there is always a treatment that can be administered by ear. Like Jesus in the Gospel, the treatment is words of comfort and reassurance given to others and words of comfort that we open ourselves to hearing.
In the Gospel story, intent on hearing only what they wanted to hear, some were deaf to hearing Jesus’ words of comfort. Unable to hear words of comfort, they would surely have difficulty giving them. Perhaps it is time to open our ears anew to Jesus words of comfort. Having done so, in future emergencies we will remember the treatment that is administered by ear.