This evening as we were leaving the hospital, the resident said of the night float intern who had just taken over from us, “He used to be a very sweet, easy person. He’s not like that any more; he’s becoming hardened.”

And I am thinking: Do I really behave that differently from these other medical people? I join in when they complain about another drug overdose being admitted, and roll my eyes when a patient complains about being asked the same thing for a tenth time, and mock the 300lb lady when she insists that her weight gain of 10lbs over 2 weeks is unusual and concerning. That’s not how a Christian should be behaving. What am I going to be like by this time next year, let alone five years from now?

But how is it possible not to be frustrated and sarcastic about people who come in every month with the same complaint, only being satisfied when they’re admitted and given iv pain medicine? Or people who abuse every drug on the books, and come in every other month with overdose/suicide attempt/psychosis, and thwart all efforts to help them get into rehab?

One of the first medically-oriented books I read as a child was a biography of Mother Teresa. I remember being impressed by how she taught her novices to overcome their disgusted response to the filthy, stinking street people they cared for by thinking of each individual as an opportunity to minister to Jesus, personally.

But it’s hard to imagine Jesus being like these people; he wouldn’t be so difficult, so ungrateful, so demanding, so perversely contrary to all our efforts to help.

The Copts have a great many saints whose legends are taught in Sunday School, right along with David and Esther. There’s Abanoub, the courageous child martyr; and Mina, who left a position of honor and safety in the imperial army to sacrifice his life by declaring his allegiance to the Lord Jesus; and Demiana, who rebuked her father when he denied Christ, and died together with forty virgin companions. (These all died in the persecution of Diocletian.)

Then there’s the story of Abba Bishoi, which must be heard several times before the meanings sink in. Abba Bishoi was the spiritual father of a monastic community gathered around a small oasis in the desert, not far from a mountain range. St. Bishoi was very ascetic in his practices, fasting much, and rising at all hours of the night to spend time alone in prayer. One day, Jesus himself appeared to him, and even washed his feet. St. Bishoi was overcome with joy to see the Lord in person, but he remembered all his brothers the monks, and begged Jesus to appear to them also. Jesus answered that if they would all travel to the top of a certain mountain the next day, he would come and meet with them. That morning St. Bishoi announced his news, and the monks were filled with enthusiasm. They immediately started to run from the monastery up the mountain. St. Bishoi brought up the rear, a little more slowly.

At the base of the mountain, the monks came upon a decrepit elderly man, huddled by the side of the path. As the monks passed, he called out to ask where they were going. When he heard that they were going to see Jesus, he started begging every one who went by to assist him to climb the mountain, so that he also could see Jesus. The monks, in their haste, ran on, saying that they didn’t want to arrive too late and miss Jesus; and anyway, as holy persons who had dedicated their lives to serving God, it was surely far more important for them to get to the top than for this ridiculous old man. Finally, St. Bishoi came to the bottom of the mountain. When he saw the old man, abandoned by all the others, he took pity on him, and, lifting him onto his shoulders, began to slowly carry him up the mountain. Of course, this old man was Jesus himself, and thus only St. Bishoi, who stayed behind to help him, actually saw Jesus that day on the mountain. The Copts always mention St. Bishoi in the liturgies as “the righteous, perfect man, beloved of our Good Savior.”