Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Hot Shower

Mark 2:17 “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It has been a stormy month and, here in the Northeast, that means snow. And ice. And the dreaded “wintry mix.” When all of that falls from the sky it makes demands. You have to shovel, put some sort of de-icer on the walk and, if you’re like me and don’t have a garage, you have to brush and scrape your car to remove snow and ice. We’re barely into January and all that is getting old already. It has, however, reminded me of a basic truth: Hot showers feel their best when you are actually cold and dirty.

The minute I said that to myself, the words of Jesus from Mark leapt into my brain. Jesus has just come under fire from the religious leadership for inviting a tax collector to be a disciple and for eating meals (a sign of personal acceptance and honor) with tax collectors and sinners. To get into the sentiment, imagine Jesus having dinner (and obviously enjoying dinner) with Bernie Madoff when he had an invitation to dine with the local bishops. Jesus points out that he hasn’t come to validate the righteous but to help those headed in another direction to turn around and see the God who loves them.

There are two things that strike me when I consider that passage and my hot shower experience. First is that the Church today seems much more interested in seeking out those who are basically warm and clean and trying to convince them that they are actually cold, dirty and in need of a shower. Rare is the church that truly seeks those who are metaphorically (or literally) cold and dirty. Those who are literally cold and dirty bring too many problems and demand services that they can’t usually support. We give a lot of lip service to seeking “those people,” but we rarely try to find them except when giving out Thanksgiving baskets. When those who are metaphorically cold and dirty (i.e. “sinners”) show up, we call them hypocrites for being in church and yet leading a sinful life. Who wants to stick around for that?

The second thing that strikes me is that (perhaps because the church has focused on serving those who are righteous for so long) we often come to believe that if we do fall into sin, Jesus is the last person who wants to see us. Sin becomes the reason we should NOT go to church, NOT take communion, and NOT try to engage God in prayer, scripture, or anything else. We imagine God sitting on his throne with his finger poised by the button opening the trap door to hell, just waiting for us to make a misstep. Or, if our image of God isn’t quite that severe, we figure we’ll at least get “that look.” So we decide it’s best just not to bring the matter up anywhere that God might be listening.

Jesus points out both in his words and in his behavior that he is not interested in a religious club for the “good” people. Nothing wrong with them, but that’s just the point. His mission is very specifically to those who can’t get their act together and need help. To those who are in some way “lost.” And the thing that seems to get under the skin of the Pharisees is that Jesus seems to actually like those lost people--love them even. He doesn’t come into their midst proclaiming their damnation—he comes in with “good news.” That the Kingdom of God has come near, even to them. Especially to them. And Jesus later calls the Pharisees every name in the book for trying to deny them access to God.

The healthy don’t need a physician; the clean don’t need a shower. Jesus came to heal the sick and to find the lost and when we are in that condition, he should be the one we hope for, not the one we dread. For those of us who have climbed onto the discipleship bandwagon, both as churches and individuals, the mission of Jesus is our mission. How are we doing with that?


  • I ran across your blog today ... as I was reading on the topic of stillness, quietness ... and "the hot shower" analogy caught my attention. In our church we've been discussing this topic as we have read Dr. Keller's book, The Prodigal Father. "Messy people" challenge our elder brother-ish tendencies! Thank you for sharing your ministry online.

    By OpenID instillnessthedancing, At February 3, 2009 10:55 PM  

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