“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
I’ve always liked this verse. It’s comforting to know that Jesus comes to us like a doctor, tending to our “sickness,” our sin – that acts like a wedge between our relationship with God and our relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters. The reality of sin is something we all need to face. We should seek to turn away from the very thing that separates us from God and embrace God’s wonderful grace.
It’s how we face this reality, though, that I believe to be a real issue for the church universal today. There’s been a lot of talk recently about “calling sin ‘sin'” and – per the phrase that’s often mistaken for scripture but is not – “loving the sinner but hating the sin.”
The problem, though, is that sick people really aren’t in a position to tell someone else how sick they are. That’s the doctor’s job. When was the last time you saw a fellow patient at the doctor’s office going from room to room, looking over charts they didn’t understand, diagnosing ailments they had no knowledge of, and writing prescriptions for drugs they didn’t know? When folks do this, it leads to the bigger problem of some believing that they are no longer in need of Jesus’ medical services, while going to great lengths to point out to others that they are.
I get a little nervous when the church gets the reputation of being a place you can only go to if you’ve got your act together. Every now and then I’ll have a conversation with someone who honestly doesn’t feel they are worthy enough to come to church, or that they will be welcomed in the church for who they are. This saddens me, because the church should be seen as the very place where they can come and be loved, valued and accepted for who they are, whatever their condition.
Jesus’ comment here is in response to a question he surely got a lot – why, Jesus, are you spending all your time with the sinners and the “less-worthy” types, and not the righteous and religious leaders? If we’re to use Jesus as our model, as we should, then it’s pretty obvious that Jesus never intended for the church to be a place of perfect health prior to his return. In fact, per the Mark passage, Jesus views the church more along the lines of a hospital – specifically, a large ER unit. Because in Jesus’ church, it isn’t about varying degrees of sin as much as it’s about the fact that all of us are equally in need of his healing and wholeness.
I know it sounds funny to say, but the church is a very sick place! And this is precisely what Jesus wanted, as evidenced by the life he led. When he ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, when he went to the woman at the well, when he decided to build his church on the back of a salty temperamental fisherman, when he traveled for three years with a motley crew of disciples who argued amongst themselves and wondered which of them would be first in God’s kingdom. And it was through these folks that God’s wonderful church came into being.
Our church is full of sinners. And you know what? That’s exactly the way Jesus wants it. May God’s grace abound through our imperfections. Thanks be to God!
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