One of the more common complaints in any modern emergency department is the ‘spider bite.’   The patient comes with a large, swollen, red, painful mass on some part of the body.  Their first assumption, at least in the South, is ‘it’s a spider bite!’  ‘Did you see the spider bite you?’  I ask.  The answer is almost always no.  But it’s a spider bite, daggum it!

Now, let me pause to say that I see lots of spiders.  Once, for my kids’ school project, my brother-in-law and I searched around my house and found roughly 15 Black Widow spiders (Latrodectus Mactans) in the assorted nooks and crannies of the yard.  There are many other species.  None of them has ever, I mean ever, been aggressive towards my family or me.  So, I think the spiders get a very, very bad rap.  They need to hire a PR firm.

But to return to the point at hand, my patients with ‘spider bites’ almost always have abscesses.  These are fluid collections of bacteria and purulent material (pus) that accumulate under the skin.  A little local anesthesia, or sometimes sedation, a scalpel and ‘voila,’ icky stuff drains forth.  These days it’s mostly MRSA, or Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus.  Which is to say, it’s an organism very resistant to standard antibiotic therapy.  Fortunately, opening the abscess is usually the definitive treatment.

Oddly, if you talk to an old, country person about abscesses, they’ll say ‘I tried putting drawing salve (or black salve) on it, to pull out the corruption.’  Corruption being, in this context, a very old term for pus.  I like it.  I think it’s an elegant word; not gross, not exactly descriptive, but in many ways very accurate. The infection corrupts the healthy tissue, and the abscess is full of white blood cells and bacteria, even dead tissue.  There is a kind of corruption at work.

The metaphor hit me like a brick a few days ago, while I was sticking yet another #11 blade into a bulging, red ‘spider-bite.’  As the corruption flowed out, I realized that as humans we all have that corruption inside.  And it all begs to be treated.

We have sin in our lives.  I’m sorry if it offends, but the evidence is strong.  Spend a couple of weeks in the ER and you’ll understand  the doctrine of ‘original sin.’  You may not agree, but you’ll see that it’s a fairly predictive model.  People are fallen and sinful.  But that’s not all.  They’re full of pain as a consequence.  Think of sin as the bacteria, and all it’s consequences as the swelling, the redness, the drainage, the fever, the misery that comes from the propagation of it.

We put salves on. We distract ourselves with activity, with money, with sex or success; with anger or hatred.  We try to pull out the problem, or cover it up.  Counselors tell us the guilt isn’t real; that it’s no abscess, only a spider bite.  Some psychiatrists, even pastors, tell us to let it go and stop worrying; that we’re imagining it all.  That the pain isn’t real; it’s illusory.  We take pills for the pain in our hearts; like antibiotics for a large abscess, they don’t do much, since they don’t relieve the pressure, they don’t kill the contagion by exposing it to air and light.  The corruption remains and grows in the dark places beneath the surface.

Finally, if it hurts enough, we stop with the salves and pills.  We stop with the belief that the pain is something that will go away, and we let someone open it.  The corruption in our hearts, like that in our bodies, is drained away.

Here is the Christian message.  The sin inside us is not ‘who we are.’  It is contagion.  It has penetrated what was meant to be perfect and made us sick.  It has corrupted us.  The message is that Christ opened the wound and drained the pain.  His wounds, in a sense, were the incisions, endured for us, that treated the abscess of sin, bulging as it was with evil, with misery, with Godlessness and loneliness.  ‘

He was wounded for our iniquity.’  He underwent the procedure.

He didn’t call us to numbness, or to ignore our condition.  He didn’t tell us to wait and apply something to delay the inevitable.  He treated the condition once for all.

Corruption…what a great word!  For abscesses and souls.  And a reminder that the corruption must be drained, whether physically and spiritually, if ever we hope to be whole again.


Thomas inspects the wounds of Jesus

Thomas inspects the wounds of Jesus

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