Tuesday, November 22, 2016

CORBAN (Part One of Four)

(Mark 7:10-13)

Emlyn is a godly man, to whom I cannot hold a candle. He radiates Jesus, yet he sees not the light that shines from his face. He is a man who suffers; not physically; no, his suffering is a deeper kind. Four years ago his father died following a road accident and a year later his son-in-law died of cancer, aged 36 years, leaving a widow and two young children. Emlyn’s own wife, Eva, continues the deteriorating course of senile dementia. He struggled to look after her as the other problems assailed him, but eventually he had to submit to the fact that alone he could not provide the 24-hour care she needed. She had been a lovely Salvationist soldier, greatly loved, hard-working and very caring, which adds to the pain of seeing her in her present condition. She is little more than a ‘bag of bones’. She cannot feed herself, clean herself or communicate at all with those around her. Everything has to be done for her. She has no control over bowel or bladder and is now cared for in a local hospital.

Emlyn is only 62 and is one of our healthy, sprightly retireds, and he feels a great guilt that Eva should ever have to enter such a place as a geriatric ward; he feels that he has failed her. Despite the fact that he couldn’t possibly have managed any longer and despite assurances from many sources, he still feels guilty. Daily he goes to the hospital at 2pm, and carries Eva to his car and straps her in and either takes her for a ride or takes her home for a few hours. To visit him whilst she is there is a unique blessing. He sits with her and feeds her yoghurt, grapes or the like. He talks to her and jokes too; he loves her, though any sensitive eye can see his hidden grief and pain. She cannot and does not reciprocate. When she messes herself, as invariably she does, his words of pity are for her, not himself. ‘Poor Eva! Poor Eva!’ Often as I watch them the words ‘For better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ enter my mind. After an hour or two she is gently carried to the car and is taken back to the hospital.

Emlyn’s daughter now works to support her two youngsters and it is frequently ‘granddad’, Emlyn, who attends to them at dinner time when they come home from school, who prepares the evening meal, who takes them to the doctor or dentist or the casualty department when those minor crises we all experience occur. He labours to support her and them. And though he sees it not, he is far better equipped to serve his wife 100 per cent when he is with her than he would ever be if she were permanently at home.

But he still feels guilty! He feels guilty that in a Salvation Army corps (church) short of leaders but full of labour, he is not doing his part as he sees it; that he is not taking some of the weight off the commanding officer’s shoulders. At one time he and his wife were totally immersed in corps activities, but now? ‘I could do more if I didn’t spend every afternoon with Eva, but she has been such a wonderful wife and I feel I ought to be with her and yet I also feel I ought to be helping you more than I do.’

What Emlyn fails to see but is apparent to all who have eyes to see, is the fact that there is no greater ministry in the corps than his. He often feels isolated in his ministry to his wife and what Christian prisoner has not questioned how languishing in prison can be of much help to the Kingdom? Yet what unending blessings have come from such prisons, blessings that have outlived those who have been the means of blessing. Obviously we call to mind the Pauls and Bunyans and Bonhoeffers. 

Emlyn’s private ministry to Eva is a means of grace and blessing and encouragement and challenge to all. He could so easily call that time spent with Eva ‘corban’ (see Mark 7:10-13*) and claim to be giving it to God by using it in service at the corps, when in fact to do so would be doing disservice to both, to Eva and ultimately to God himself.

End Part One of Four

Howard Webber
Bournemouth UK

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