The Church As a Hospital

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32)

Most of us find it difficult to admit that we are sick. We tend to try every home remedy and every over-the-counter med before we to see a physician. Something in us wants to believe that we aren’t as ill as we are or that we can fix ourselves. In addition, I suspect that most of us tend to think that what we don’t know won’t hurt us. Denial seems to be a part of our human condition.

We are no less susceptible to this tendency to denial as it relates to our spiritual lives. One of the recurring themes of the New Testament is the need to remind us of our tendency to sinfulness. We have short memories about our sin. We are experts at categorizing sin so that ours doesn’t seem so bad. We compare our sin to the sin of others and interestingly enough, we tend to come out looking pretty good.

It is this denial of reality and the arrogance that typically accompanies it that Jesus addresses in his criticism of the Pharisees. They believe that they are less sinful and less needy than the common people and especially the people who are culturally-blatant sinners. They don’t realize that this perspective of life is leading them away from God rather than toward Him. They can’t see that true holiness is not strength; it’s weakness. Genuine godliness is not living with little need of God but rather living with such an honest understanding of ourselves that we cannot exist without full and total dependence upon God. Thus, Jesus says that it’s the people who recognize that they cannot possibly do anything spiritually without God who are the most holy, the most ready for God, who possess the most potential for God to do something amazing.

It’s for this reason that the image of church as a hospital is so appealing to me. The church as a spiritual hospital contains people at all stages of spiritual health. Some are in the Emergency Room, some are in surgery, some in recovery, some are in ICU, others in step-down units; some are in a regular room and are progressing quite nicely. Some people have been healed enough that they are actually able to help others who are in a more serious condition. The one common element of every person’s spiritual existence is a need to remain connected to the Great Physician.

This imagery is good news for people who tend to see the church as a country club for the elite—an image that, unfortunately, the church has propagated with great success. Instead of seeing the church as a place designed for people with problems and struggles with sin, we have tended to imply that the church is for people who are pretty healthy. Then we wonder why people outside the church don’t seem all that interested in connecting with the church.

Instead, the message we need to proclaim is that we don’t need to be well in order to come to Jesus and His church; we come to Jesus and His church so that He can make us well. What can we do to help each other hear and see and embrace this truth? What can we do to help others hear and see and believe this truth?