Jesus was not a cardiologist. And yet, I would guess that many modern cardiologists, along with the majority of people, would agree with this long-ago statement from Matthew 6:21:
For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.
Did Jesus really say it? The Jesus Seminar scholars, a loose-knit group of academics that have rigorously examined Jesus’ words in the Gospels (and who challenge readers to realize some of Jesus’ statements may have been “invented” by the Gospel writers), had mixed reactions to this verse.
A version of these verses also appears in Luke 12:33-34 and the Gospel of Thomas 76:3. Did Jesus say it? There’s no doubt that scholars can debate its veracity. But I believe the statement; those brief words can rattle and rekindle my faith.
I recall when a friend called to tell me he was scheduled for a procedure in the near future. An angiogram. There might be more if blockage was found, including a stent placed in one or more of his arteries. He and his cardiologist had been monitoring some cardiac aberrations and it was past time to take a closer look.
I think my friend was afraid. (I would be too.)
If his situation was compared to by-pass surgery or a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, my friend’s procedure wouldn’t be deemed serious. By-pass surgery can still be, even under the best of circumstances, invasive and complicated. Recovery can be lengthy. Pancreatic cancer remains, if not the worst, one of the problematic types of cancer to treat. As with several other devastating cancers, “recovery” may be limited or nonexistent.
So, sure, there’s a lot more out there that is scarier. A “maybe-a-stent” procedure is toward the bottom on the bad-news scale . . . unless it’s happening to you.
Years ago, after breaking bones in my left leg on a backpack, I was airlifted to a hospital. In order to stabilize the damage, temporary metal pins were screwed into my leg. Guess who got to be knocked-out so the hardware could be inserted? I’ll never forget when the anesthesiologist pulled a chair next to my bed in the emergency room to explain his part in the “simple” procedure. He leaned toward me, as if sharing a secret with a friend. Young and confident, he had a breezy style that made me feel comfortable. He wore several gold chains around his neck. I think my recollection of that jewelry was heightened because at one point, as he reviewed the checklist of his responsibilities, he mentioned I could die.
For several anguished seconds, I stared straight at him.
Probably at his neck-bound “bling.”
Probably hardly seeing it.
Probably never really forgetting the glitter of his gold.
Only a simple procedure, only a few pins in the leg. No problem. And, because he was a well-trained anesthesiologist (and compelled by the hospital to practice not only medicine but full disclosure), he provided the facts. He told me what drugs he would use. He promised he would monitor me before, during, and after the surgery. And, as noted, he explained the “downsides.” One being me being dead. No guarantees, eh?
What matters? What are the matters that touch the heart? Where and whom are your treasures?
There were no surgeons in Jesus’ day. Yes, there were “doctors.” We’ve always had the ones who cared, sometimes with no more resources other than a reassuring word or a mixture of herbs. But, obviously, there were no cardiologists, oncologists, or other “ologists.” Hippocrates, he of the Hippocratic Oath, lived 400 years before Jesus. If you read the original version of the oath, you will see he was adverse to surgery. Of course he was! 2,500 years ago, cutting into human flesh was the same as a fatal wound in battle. Hippocrates was Greek; the heart was important as the soul’s home, not as a surgeon’s destination.
Thanks be to God for these modern times! For skilled cardiologists and learned cardiac surgeons. The heart, that grand muscle, has many friends in medical circles now. The surgical wounds of the flesh can, more often than not, be healed.
However, in the Bible, in ancient Greek philosophy, and in a phone call between friends, the non-medical heart matters because it invites us to remember the truest treasures.
Me? I can still see the cardiologist’s “bling.” Gold necklaces, one overlapping another. His jewelry probably cost him, as they say, a pretty penny. But what is treasure?
Where is that heart?
My friend talked about how much he loved his wife and children. How much he looked forward to hiking with me again.
I could have told him, and it would have been the truth, that he was facing a simple procedure. No problem. No big deal. Don’t worry.
But it was happening to him. And I know that Jesus was correct. Our treasure and heart are one. My friend, and his family and his doctors, would be in my prayers. He was and is a treasure in my life.
There is no “bling” that really matters.
I’m glad that anesthesiologist was honest with me. And to this day, now decades later, I still have the metal pins that were eventually removed from my flesh and bone. But that metal was not “bling.” For me, it’s a physical reminder of what Matthew and Luke and Thomas also remembered. Find the heart, Jesus invited. Find the treasure.