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Least of These Reflections: Sarah Stoneking

Matthew 25:40 - And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

In this series, those working within health care were asked to consider the words of Matthew 25:40 and then answer: Who are the least of these? How do they impact your ministry?

When I first approached this question, my automatic response was steeped in the social justice call that I’ve felt since I was drawn to the health care profession: the least of these are those who our health system has left out. They are those who get pushed to the margins even with the safety nets that are set up. They are those who are not offered a chance to achieve quality of life due to oppressive environmental and social factors. I do believe that there are socioeconomic consequences and large structural issues in the world that disadvantage and disarm large groups of people, taking away their autonomy over their health and well-being. I feel called to work with populations who do not receive adequate health care, and I am committed to work to the best of my abilities to assure that they receive both sufficient and compassionate care.

But I also believe that “the least of these” can be more universal. In the world of medicine, health care providers are constantly in contact with people who are at their most vulnerable a vulnerability that may be forced upon them not only by issues of societal oppression, but by the fallibility of our very own human bodies. This is a vulnerability that is truly universal: our bodies are not perfect; our bodies will not last forever. So when asked, who are the least of these? I think my answer must be: all of us. We are all subject to the limitations of our physical bodies. At some point we will all have to confront the fact that we are not immortal. As a new health care professional, I am only beginning to witness the subtleties of that vulnerability. I see it present in the woman uncomfortable with an unplanned pregnancy, in the man grappling with the diagnosis of terminal cancer, in the three-year-old unwilling to allow a physician to see his tonsils, and in the mother who cannot afford medications for her daughter. I feel my ministry lies not only in recognizing and honoring this shared vulnerability, but by remaining faithful and true to my belief in the human spirit, despite these vulnerabilities. I refuse to believe that the human spirit has no recourse in the face of death and vulnerability. In my training, I am looking for every possibility I have to make myself more prepared to work not only with these fallible bodies, but with these forgiving and formidable souls. Health at some point will bring us all down on our knees and expose our humanity, health care professionals and lay persons alike. I believe that my ministry as a health care professional is to offer humble, honest, and emotionally intelligent care to the least of these as we journey together through life.

Sarah Stoneking is a Medical Student in Chapel Hill, NC.

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Health care professionals reflect on Matthew 25:40


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