It has been said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I think the quote originates from a Dear Abby syndicated column. It’s a striking word picture as it calls to mind images of people who are unwell but want to get better—people who acknowledge their sickness, are humbled by it, and have placed themselves in the hands of others who might help them.
Closely related to the word “hospital,” is the word “hospitality.” The root of both is the Latin noun hospes, meaning “one who provides lodging or entertainment for a guest or visitor.”
Hospitals provide hospitality to the sick so that they might become healthy and whole. And that is exactly what God calls us to do as the church.
The Church As a Hospital for the Unwell
Both the Old and New Testaments command those who belong to the Lord to generously provide hospitality. And not only are we to practice hospitality, but we are to do so in a way that—if necessary—administers aid and care to the sick.
The prophet Isaiah says true fasting is “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (Isa. 58:7). Paul tells Titus that an elder must be hospitable (Titus 1:8).
While in the home of a prominent Pharisee, Jesus commands, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13–14). And the apostle Peter urges the church to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9).
The Sick Aren’t Just Those Outside the Church
Over and over the Bible commands the church to open wide our doors to the hungry, the poor, the wanderer, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and to one another. What we might easily dismiss or forget, though, is that we, the church, are the hungry, the poor, the wanderer, the crippled, the lame, and the blind:
“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw [Jesus] eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ 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 2:16–17).
We who gather in church are the sick in need of a doctor. We are the sinners in need of a Savior.Hospitals provide hospitality to the sick so that they might become healthy and whole. And that is exactly what God calls us to do as the church. Click To Tweet
To be sure, by God’s immeasurable love and grace, we who are in Christ are redeemed. We are now new creations, and God lives inside of us, but we have not yet reached perfection. We still wage war against our own flesh. We will not be without sin until we reach heaven. We are still in need of, even as we are required to give, the hospitality of a hospital. And praise God—that is exactly what Jesus’s mission provides for us.
Showing Hospitality to All
In our wealthy Western context, it can be easy to lose sight of the reality that Jesus came for the sick and the poor, the oppressed and the hurting. Even in the church we can drift toward self-sufficiency and fool ourselves into thinking that we’re just fine. But Jesus’s mission was one of rescue and healing—and it’s one that you and I and the whole world need, no matter how materially comfortable we are.
The Gospel of Luke tells how Jesus began his public ministry by preaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. One Sabbath, he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, written hundreds of years before, saying:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18–19).
Jesus rolled up the scroll and, with the eyes of everyone in the synagogue fastened on him, declared, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus was proclaiming to the synagogue worshipers that he was God and that his mission was to bring good news, to bring freedom, and to bring healing. The gospel is good news! The gifts of our God are very good.
Breaking Stereotypes of the Church As a Museum for Saints
So then, when we gather to worship our God, we too should be marked by this kind of goodness. And yet the stereotype of the church is that we are grumpy. Or snobby. Perhaps a crowd of curmudgeons. Or a country club with weekly meetings.
We are not always or even often associated with proclaiming good news to the poor, or drawing near to prisoners to set them free, or befriending the blind to bring them sight. While it’s only a stereotype, we should be honest in admitting that stereotypes do originate somewhere. So think for a moment about the conversations you’ve had with other believers this past week. Or consider your immediate thoughts when an outsider came into your church. To what extent did they reflect the gracious invitation of our Savior? Let’s be honest about some of our ugly tendencies and reflexes, and ask the Lord to help us joyfully make space for everyone he draws near to.We who gather in church are the sick in need of a doctor. We are the sinners in need of a Savior. Click To Tweet
When Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” he was pronouncing that he was the anointed one of God. He understood his mission as the promised Messiah. He was pronouncing to his community that God had come down, as he said he would, and that he had come to save the lost and heal the sick.
This is who our God is. And Jesus says to us Christians, “Follow me.” This mission, then, of good news and freedom and healing, is ours too.