Sometime ago I was in an emergency room waiting area and noticed a sign on the wall outlining patient rights. Paraphrasing, the sign said that no matter who you are, where you come from, what your circumstances are or your ability to pay you are entitled to be cared for if you are truly sick. I thought the sign a little ironic as I looked about the waiting room and saw only sick people seeking care, not any healthy ones but nonetheless found it comforting that because of the pressing nature of illness care was available for these folks regardless of their circumstance.
Similarly, when questioned by the religious elite of his day about why he was associating with those of questionable character, Jesus responded by saying that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick”. Clearly, Jesus found it most important to minister to those who were in need, the sick, regardless of their circumstance, rather than to serve those who were healthy. Jesus continued by explaining what he meant by his analogy of the sick and the healthy, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”. The implication from this saying of Jesus is clear; those of us who have been called by Jesus are not the healthy but the sick, not the righteous but sinners. The church then, as a gathering of Jesus’ called people, is not a group of self-righteous super saints like the religious elite in Jesus’ day who think they have overcome their disease through self-effort, but rather is a group of broken sinners who recognize their sickness and are under the continual care of the great physician, Jesus.
Like a patient who has been given the cure for a fatal disease but is still in need of recovery, Christ followers are people who have been given the cure for their fatal disease, sin, and are also in recovery. And, as any who have struggled with a protracted illness well know, even when a disease has been cured it still has lingering effects upon our lives. Even though we have been cured, we still need rehabilitation to deal with those effects. Understood in this context the church then serves as a rehabilitation clinic where the residual effects of our disease are dealt with progressively and proactively. Jesus has not only cured our disease, but he also continues to work with us to complete our rehabilitation until the day when we will finally be completely restored.
The mission of the church as rehabilitation clinic then becomes to lovingly help people understand first the illness that plagues them. Secondly, to share the cure that is only available from the great physician Jesus. Third, to work together in a loving environment with Jesus to uplift and encourage one another to continue on the path of rehabilitation by dealing with the lingering effects of our common disease. The church undertakes this mission in humble recognition of the healing that we have received through no effort of our own. And like that sign in the emergency room that promises care to all no matter who you are, where you come from, what your circumstances are or your ability to pay the healing ministry and rehabilitation clinic of Jesus are available to all regardless of background, ability or circumstance,