The Church: A Hospital for Sinners
Guest Author: Jake Hudson He must have been lonely. He had to have been lonely. His childhood started out promising; he was another young Jewish boy, with the hope of a great future before him. At the age of twelve he knew all there was to know about the Law of Moses, and the traditions of the prophets. He spent the better half of his first decade of life learning such things. It came time for his graduation, for the next step in his life. Discipleship was the hope of every young Jewish scholar. The opportunity at the age of twelve to be selected by one of the prestigious rabbis, and to sit at his feet with attentive eyes and ears learning what it meant to be a leader of the faith. However, as disciples were chosen, the group of young men dwindled. Eventually, he was the only one left. All he had worked for was crushed in just a breath. Now what would he do? Where would he go? How would he earn a living? The questions were innumerable as frustration and panic overwhelmed him. The years would pass, and opportunities would come and go. Unfortunately, those opportunities would come at a cost, especially the one he would settle for. Before he knew it, he had taken on a role that his fellow countrymen, even his own family, would despise him for. He became a tax collector for the Roman government. Now, not only was he a failure in his religion, but he was a betrayer of his people. Despised and rejected, hurt and alone, he would spend his days within his booth of shame. He cheated and hustled those whom he had once hoped to serve. Matthew sat in despair, until the day he met a rabbi named Jesus.
Matthew’s encounter with Christ has always fascinated me. Specifically due to his role and image in society. To be a tax collector for the Roman government was essentially to be a thief. In a day where there were no statements to declare the amount of taxes due, the collectors would often take advantage of those whom they were collecting from. A push there, a pull here, a little off the top, and a pinch into the pocket. That was in effect the ethos of a tax collector. Collect what was owed, and then a little more for self-interest. I seriously doubt Matthew dreamed of such a life as a young boy. Who wants to grow up to be despised, rejected, and labeled as a common thief? Yet, one event led to another, and eventually he succumbed to the rank of “traitor” to his loved ones. He was a sinner in need of a savior. He was spiritually sick, and in need of soul surgery.
The day he met Jesus, he met the doctor he was longing for. Christ, the Great Physician, saw the world through the eyes of a doctor, seeking out the illnesses within all of us. Where others saw hate, despair, rejection, and treason, Christ saw hope, mercy, grace, love, and a cure. It didn’t make sense to the on-lookers of Matthew’s day. Why would a Jewish rabbi have anything to do with such a man? Shouldn’t he be avoiding him like the rest of us? Certainly Matthew was taken-back by the hand Christ extended him. Could this be the rabbi he sought after so long ago? Could this be the answer to his state of despair? Whatever the case, all it took was a simple invitation, “Follow me.”. Those two words transformed Matthew’s broken soul. All it took was the simple act of noticing what so many neglected; Matthew was a soul longing for the Savior.
Unfortunately, we often move through our lives with a blind-eye. We see the world much like the Jews of Matthew’s day. We focus on our lives, our needs, and the needs of those who are like us. Let’s be honest, there is nothing appealing about being caught with the wrong crowd. The label we would receive for such behavior would certainly not be honorable in this world. Surely we can be Christians with other Christians, and avoid those who most definitely are not fit for such a title. After all, the Church described in the New Testament is a church that resides in middle-class or higher neighborhoods. Crime is minimal, poverty is unheard of, and troubled lives are extra baggage.
Obviously, many of us would not readily agree with such a statement, but do our congregations reflect such a belief? I fear that we often resemble the Pharisees who question Christ and His place at the table in Matthew’s house, “10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10–13 (ESV)
We often forget that this world is made up of one kind of soul, a soul just as Matthew’s, a sinner that needs a savior. The Church, as the New Testament describes it, is the gathering of these souls. In effect it is a hospital for the sick. Not necessarily a building, but a gathering of hearts seeking salvation and seeking deliverance from the epidemic of sin. We tend to forget, that without the help of the Great Physician, we are simply sick like all the others outside of His care. We profess to imitate Christ, but the challenge in doing so is seeing the world through His eyes and not our own. The eyes of a doctor. The eyes that look past the superficial, and deep into the hearts of one another.
The reality is, it is not so much about how we look on the outside as it is about the condition of our souls within. Christ told the Pharisees of Matthew’s day, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” The Pharisees had the outward appearance down, yet they failed to see the world through the eyes of Christ. They saw God’s house as a house for the “healthy” not a house for the “sick.” As you walk through the days of your life, what will you choose to see?
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