43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This passage is difficult for many reasons. Jesus spends time teaching the difference between our perception of law and God’s intent. He shows us that we are inclined to hate our enemies and love our neighbors. This is our interpretation of justice. It stands in contrast to how God views it, and that is a VERY good thing, for us all. We are taught to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I cannot think of anything more difficult to do.
How does this apply to our lives in medicine? Do we have enemies? Certainly not our patients. What about insurers? Administrators? Drug manufacturers? Politicians and government bureaucrats? Let’s focus on those who make decision on our behalf. As a consultant, I had the unique experience of sitting across the table from senior hospital leadership and then separately interviewing their employees. It is an enlightening process to see the different views of an organization from these two perspectives. It seems almost second nature to blame “administration” for the difficulties we encounter on a daily basis while trying to care for patients. We even refer to them in non-human terms “admin”, “administration”, “the c-suite”, and other more unpleasant terms. But why them? Are they really our enemies? Do you think Jesus is actually talking about them? After all, they are not persecuting us. Well, sometimes we talk about them as if they are. The mounting pressures of inefficiencies, frustrations with poor staffing, and constant stream of “why don’t they just…” ideas from our coworkers can make it seem as if there is a deliberate attempt to make our work environment a mess. So we engage in gossip, make untoward comments, and shine the spotlight of blame on our leadership. If they were better at their job, we would not be where we are today. Were it not for the decisions they made, these problems would not exist.
The passage above is accusatory, and rightfully so. We engage in conversations and criticisms with little information and make assumptions of ineptitude or worse, malicious behavior, on the part of our leadership. That makes us no different than the “tax collectors”. The example doesn’t stop with our hospital leaders, it is can be true of anyone: our supervisor, a nursing director, a charge nurse, a co-worker. We are quick to judge and have no time for messy conversations or excuses. Incompetence is rampant ! … or so we believe.
So what is the Christian way? Are we really to seek out these decision makers and engage them in conversations? Are we really supposed to spend time trying to understand the nature of their job and the circumstances they find themselves in when faced with these decisions? Is that really necessary when the answer is so obvious to us? … Yes. There is a concept called “charitable assumption” which seems to lend itself well to this situation. It asks that we begin with the assumption that the person we are speaking about is good, has good intentions, and is not seeking to destroy everything around us or harm us. With that assumption we step back and ask more questions. Things like: “How bad must it be for someone to choose this solution?”, “Though it seems like the wrong decision, there must be more to this story than meets the eye, we know this person wouldn’t intentionally harm us.” This approach doesn’t lead to complacency, but more questions. It gives us the temperament to say “yes, this is very frustrating, but let’s withhold judgement until we know the details.” After all, we would certainly want that to be the case when others are criticizing the decisions we make. It is important to remember, however, that Jesus calls us to go beyond even “charitable assumption” and to actually “love” our enemies. He teaches that even in the face of persecution, we should be loving. Anything less is insufficient. There really is no room for our sinful behavior.