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A SURGEON

LOOKS AT THE CROSS


An interview with James HyJand Jewell, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.S. of Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania by Mrs. Patricia A. Didden.

In addition to other experience Dr. JeweJ] served from 1965 to 1967 as Assistant Resident and Chief Resident, Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, University of Maryland. From 1967 to 1971 he served on the active staff at The Reading Hospital, Reading, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph's Hospital, Reading, Pennsylvania, and Community General Hospital, Reading, Pennsylvania, Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. From 1969 to 1972 he served as Consultant at Berks County Tuberculosis Sanitarium. From 1971 to 1974 he served on the Executive Committee of The Reading Ho^prtal. In 1974 he was elected to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. In 1976 he received the Physicians' Recognition Award.

An Interview

By Patricia A. Didden

Birdsboro, Pa.


Q. DR. JEWELL, IN WHAT WAY HAS YOUR STUDY OF THE MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR CHRISTIAN DEVEL­OPMENT?

Good Friday is an accepted holiday now, yet I'm afraid that what happened on Good Friday is taken for granted by most people. Sometimes this happens in my own life. My friendship with Christ becomes a distant thing in the rush of daily living. A physician is constantly reminded of pain. When I think about the physical aspect of the cross, the aspect of pain, I draw very close to Christ in gratitude for what He suffered for me.


Him. Angels came, and He, being in agony, prayed the more earnestly. At this point His sweat was described as "great drops of blood" coming down to the ground. The person who described it was Dr. Luke, a physician, and he described it clearly. Modern theologians have tried in every way to explain away this fact of sweating blood. If these men would look back in the annals of medicine, they would find a term called "hematodosis." It's a rare occur­rence, but under great emotional stress and agony, capil­laries in the skin can break and mix with an electrolyte solution of sweat. This appears on the skin as blood.

Dehydration began, at that moment, in our Lord. What an example of prayer Christ set for us!


 


Q. WHAT IS THE MEDICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PHRASE, "HE SWEAT, AS IT WERE, GREAT DROPS OF BLOOD"? (Luke 22:41-44)

Christ's agony began in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the Father, as you remember, to remove the cup from

March/April, 1979


Q. WHY DON'T THE GOSPEL WRITERS EXPLAIN OR DESCRIBE THE CRUCIFIXION MORE CLEARLY?

The Gospel writers did not waste much time on the crucifixion itself because it was a common occurrence in those days. Nearly everyone had seen one. Those who had


not had heard them vividly described by eyewitnesses. Both scourging and crucifixion were everyday methods of punishment.

Q. WAS IT COMMON PRACTICE TO COMBINE SCOURGING WITH CRUCIFIXION, AS IN THE CASE OF OUR LORD?

No, it was not. At least, this practice has not been de­scribed anywhere in ancient literature. Actually a Roman scourging by itself could, and often did, result in death. I believe that Pilate had previously agreed to scourge Jesus and release Barabbas, and this sentence of scourging had never been lifted. Hence Christ's double sentence of scourging and crucifixion.


Q. BY WHAT METHOD WAS CHRIST PLACED ON THE CROSS?

The soldiers laid Him on the ground, took a rough iron spike, and drove it through His wrists. Why did they not drive the spike into the center of the hand? Descriptions of crucifixions show that if a nail was driven between the metatarsal bones it would soon strip out. It could not pos­sibly hold the weight of a human body. Therefore the car­pal bones at the base of the palm were used for driving the nail. These are large bones held by great tendons that can easily support the weight of a human being. The feet were placed one on top of the other in an extended position, a single spike driven through them both, and Christ was crucified.


 


Q. DID THE ROMAN METHOD OF SCOURGING DIFFER FROM THE JEWISH METHOD?

The Jewish custom was forty lashes. As you may re­member they stopped at thirty-nine because they did not want to break the law in any way. But the Romans had no adherence to this custom. When the Romans saw that our Lord was extremely weak and near death they stopped scourging, not before.

Scourging was done by using a whip of many thongs. On the ends of these thongs were tied small pieces of metal. As the scourging process began great welts oc­curred on the skin. Next the welts would begin to break down as the lead balls went through the skin into the sub­cutaneous tissue. At that time venous and small capillary bleeding would occur. Finally the scourge would reach down into the muscle. There small arteries would be opened. More weakness and pain with tremendous bleed­ing and dehydration was the result.

Q. WHY DID THE ROMAN SOLDIERS BOTHER TO MAKE SPORT OF CHRIST IN HIS WEAKENED CONDI­TION?

They saw great humor in this provincial Jew from Northern Galilee who claimed to be a king. The rank-and-file Roman soldier was a hard, unfeeling, low class citizen who often had a criminal record of his own. Each centu­rion was a carefully selected member of the elite who was able to command respect from and discipline the brawling, rough mob of one hundred soldiers who were his respon­sibility. This type of organization was the genius of the Roman military system. Most soldiers were totally without feelings of pity for others. So they put a purple robe on Him, a staff in His hand, and a crown of long thorns on His head. Those thorns dug deeply into His scalp, causing more bleeding. At that point He was condemned to execu­tion on the cross.

Q. WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF CRUCIFIXION?

We first read of crucifixion in ancient Persia. It was brought to Greece and Rome by Alexander. Then the Ro­mans, as in everything they did, perfected it to a high degree. Contrary to what is pictured by many artists of Christ carrying a ready-made cross, the stapes, or upright portion of the cross, was left in the ground. The crossbar, or petibulum, was brought for the victim to carry. This beam weighed about one hundred pounds. It was placed on the open and bleeding back of Jesus Christ. He was told to drag this rough timber over six hundred yards to the Place of the Skull.


Q. WHY, THEN, DID HE SAY TO THOMAS, "BEHOLD MY HANDS?"

In the episode with Thomas when Jesus showed the scars in His hands, we need to understand that in those days the hand was generally considered to be from the wrist down. The carpal bones would have been considered to be part of the hand.

Q. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE PROPHECY IN PSALM 22 "ALL MY BONES ARE OUT OF JOINT"?

This literally happened to the victim of crucifixion. Body weight from hanging in an upright position would stretch the ligaments connecting the bones, throwing the body out of joint.

Q. DID CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS INCREASE AFTER HE WAS PLACED ON THE CROSS?

Yes, yet another anatomical and physiological phenomenon soon began. Hanging with His weight on the cross as He was, great waves of muscle spasms began mov­ing across the thick pectoral muscles of the chest and into the intercostal muscles. Eventually paralysis set in. The intercostal muscles lace across the chest; when we operate we can see this. These muscles aid in the breathing pro­cess. In order to get breath in, both the diaphragmatic and intercostal muscles have to work. Gradually it became al­most impossible for Christ to inhale.

By pushing down with His feet on the cross, Christ would slowly get enough breath into His chest to exhale and exclaim those few short sentences which He spoke during that time. As He would push up on His feet the nerves between the metacarpal bones would cause great pain. Our Lord, in this position, looked down and saw the soldiers gambling on the ground below for His coat. I be­lieve that He looked past those soldiers a hundred years, two hundred years, two thousand years to you and me, living today. I believe that He saw us all in our rebellion and our ego, when He said, "Father, forgive them." What a fantastic love!

Q. ACCORDING TO JOHN 19:29, JESUS WAS GIVEN VINEGAR TO DRINK WHEN HE SAID, "I THIRST." WHAT WAS THIS VINEGAR?

This was a type of old sour wine which was used at the time of crucifixion to aid those who were on the cross because of the tremendous dehydration that they suffered. This probably was provided by the Daughters of Jerusalem, a volunteer relief group of community women, not unlike our present hospital auxiliaries and volunteer groups.

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Q. PLEASE EXPLAIN CHRIST'S MEANING WHEN HE SAID, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSA­KEN ME."

First we must realize that spiritual death is far worse than any physical death. Christ's cry was the cry of One actually abandoned by God the Father. Spiritual death is separation of the soul from God. The soul is our inner being; what we are personally—the very center of life. What, then, is the source of this life? God Himself. Christ on the cross was experiencing this kind of separation. I cannot begin to either understand or explain what hap­pened from noon on Good Friday until Easter Sunday morning. I have no capability to understand that division in the Godhead, but certainly this was far worse than any­thing He suffered physically.

Q. WHAT CAUSED CHRIST TO EXPIRE?

When He said, "It is finished," He and the Father actu­ally willed His death. They were in complete control from the beginning to the end.

Crucified victims were known to live on for days in their agony. You will remember that the Jews did not want this messy business continued on into the Sabbath. So, adding to all the other pain and misery, they came and broke the legs of the victims. When they came to Christ they saw that He was already dead. To me as a surgeon, this is one of the most wonderful thoughts of all: God the Father and God


the Son are in complete control of the life force.

Q. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLOOD AND WATER THAT GUSHED FROM CHRIST'S SIDE WHEN THE SOLDIERS SPEARED HIM?

This is a post-mortem diagnosis, given by Dr. Luke, as to the immediate cause of the death of Christ. With great physical stress, a collection of fluid can occur around the heart into the pericardial sac. This is called a pericardial offusion. As this fluid builds up around the heart the organ becomes compressed. When this happens the great veins coming into the heart cannot deliver blood to it. Cardiac output goes down because there is no blood coming in. Cardiac input is down already. The Roman guard put his spear up through the fifth intercostal space, through the sac, into the heart. Water came out from the pericardial offusion; blood came out from the heart.

Q. WHAT PRACTICAL LESSONS CAN WE LEARN FROM THESE THINGS?

As we think of all these events we tend to become de­
pressed and melancholy. Here is the epitome of man's evil
to man and of our rejection of God the Father and the Son.
Yet there is a wonderful sequel: in spite of all this God
loves us. In fact, Christ went through all this agony to
become our atonement. He willingly made a way back to
God for us all. What a wonderful Savior He is!                    A


 



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