It is not the healthy who need a doctor…

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mk 2:17)

It has been commonplace in our culture now for years to insist that we human beings are okay, just as we are. As is often the case, the Church yields and buckles to the pressures of society, and in time the commonplaces of culture become the Church’s commonplaces, and important things are lost and forgotten.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor…

Slowly but surely it has risen to the level of dogma that to criticize who or how someone is as wrong is to strike a devastating blow to their being. We are not to judge, we are told, for each of us is loved and accepted just as we are. Indeed. But that is only half the truth, and it is well that we continue to read the prickly words of this biblical text, when and where we still do, because they strike a counter blow to every flaccid half-truth we so easily imbibe.

It is of course true that we are accepted and loved just as we are. Thus the occasion of Christ’s words–he had been dining with the “tax collectors and sinners” and was therefore roundly denounced by the Pharisees for so doing. The generous heart of Christ comes through in brilliant color: he will be Immanuel with and for those excluded by the system. But note–all the same he does not hesitate to call them “the sick.” He is capable AT ONCE of receiving them to the fullest AND ALSO naming their condition–and in this act of receiving and naming, he tells the fullest possible truth about their being and the Being of the God he makes known: we, the “weak and wounded, sick and sore,” are received in our sickness in order to be healed. And it is all of us who need to be healed, for something has gone wrong with the “who” and the “how” we are and needs to be remedied–whether we are tax collector or Pharisee. No one is excluded…

It is not the healthy who need a doctor…

The longer I dwell with and in the gospel (and in and with the God whose heart and work this “good news” describes), the more fully I appreciate its explanatory power. It minces no words in sizing us up. “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account…” And then it where it wounds it also heals. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The fig leaves taken away… we are unmade before our Maker… and then healed and covered by the Same, the “Great Physician”–Doctor for our souls and bodies. As Karl Barth so famously said, “In his ‘no’ God utters his ‘yes.’ ” He’ll name the sickness, a sickness that penetrates straight to the depths of our being, and then heal it all… His “no” and his “yes”, a single act of healing and forgiving love.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor…

I think intuitively we know that all is not well with “who” and “how” we are. The weight of our brokenness, incapacity, and countless contradictions is a heavy load to bear, and to have to lie about it (or be lied to about it) with trite platitudes insisting that we’re all okay is even heavier. The load lightens when finally admit that all is not well, and rush in our sickness to the One who receives us in the depths of our conflicted, contradictory beings in order to lift us up to into the bright light of his boundless, integrating love.

Amen.

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When it comes crashing down…

Sometimes, it all comes crashing down. When it does, we can perhaps take solace knowing that it’s happened before, to people in our family better than us (and worse), with more (and less) on the line. The family of faith knows about loss and grief.

The Psalmist, after extolling the great promises given to Israel once wrote:

[But] you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry…you have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins. All who pass by have plundered him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors…O Lord, where is your former great love which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Ps 89)

After centuries of rebellion, it finally happened, just like YHWH said it would–it all came crashing down. The ambiguity of it proved vexing for the Psalmist and others like him who had to wrestle with the theological meaning of the events… Promises of abiding love juxtaposed against those of wrath and judgment. How will they be reconciled? And who is to blame here? God? The nations that have invaded and torn down the temple? The leaders who led us into rebellion? Or we who made that rebellion manifest? The Psalm doesn’t provide answers, but a plea:

Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked… (v50)

Maybe that’s all we can do when we’re surrounded by rubble–plead for mercy…

…and then begin again with this God. It seems to me that one of the beautiful works of mercy present in every “crashing down” is that we’re invited once again to explore and enter into the rudimentary elements of faith. We rebuild a life on the fundamentals. Sometimes, I think, our lives and our faith gets so large and unwieldy, that God must strip us bare. Certainly that’s what happened with these people… they return to wilderness faith, and in the very next Psalm begin to give expression to it with poignant and memorable words attributed to “Moses, the man of God”, who led God’s people before there was any of the pomp and circumstance of temple and city and palace… who led the “wilderness people” before their “wilderness God”:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God…You turn men back to dust…Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you…Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom…Make us glad again…May your deeds be shown to your servants…Establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands. (Ps 90)

The falling apart, the crashing down, the stripping… it is unspeakably hard. I know. I’ve been through a few of them. But this I can say and say with great certainty–that what comes on the other side of it is just so beautiful and good. I return to the simplicity of faith. I recapture the rudiments, the fundamentals. I go back to school, back to the first principles. God as the all-encompassing Reality with whom we must always reckon, the brevity of life, holy fear that heals and cleanses, earnest pleas for wisdom, and a humble offering of my hopes and dreams, my labor and love to God, with an ache in my belly that he’ll see fit to bless it.

We hate the stripping. But if we’ll let it, it will heal us… or better–He will heal us through it, returning us to the faith we had when we first began with him, rebuilding our lives, stronger, better, more faithful than ever before.

All grace to you today…

Andrew