Not the healthy but the sick

Thoughts come to me in odd places some times.

I was sitting in the back of a used bookstore in town Wednesday night. I was just sitting and listening to the people in the store. Downstairs, a group of teenagers were playing a role playing game, laughing and joking and reveling in being nerds. Upstairs, the staff were talking about Russian translations and high school classes and various other topics.

I found myself musing about what it would mean to witness to the gospel in that place at that moment, and I was instantly aware of the barriers that would make that difficult, not the least of which being that none of those people at that moment had any sense at all that they were in need of good news.

I prayed for them as I sat there and this thought came to me. I recalled Jesus’ first sermon in the gospel of Luke.

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 to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

I’ve read and heard that passage from Isaiah many times, but Wednesday night I found myself wondering if we should hear this as Jesus talking to the church about our target audience: the poor, the captive, the “blind,” and the oppressed.

Or maybe it is just a message for me and not the church. Or maybe it is just my own squirrel brain at work playing tricks on me.

All over my Facebook feed the last couple of days, people have been sharing this article by Carey Nieuwhof about reaching people who don’t think they need God. It seems like pretty good advice, but I wonder if maybe it is missing the point in a way.

People who find their lives comfortable and live indifferently to God have never been a very ripe field for harvest. This has always been the case. Read Deuteronomy 8 if you don’t think God knows this. Read virtually of the rest of the Bible for further confirmation. There is a reason the prophets were met with stones and chains.

As I ponder these things, I think of the way the early Methodist movement made its greatest impact among what John Wesley called “plain” people. Could it be that the ones who responded to Methodist preaching were people who had found the “happiness” their society offered them unattainable or false?

I recall Jesus Christ saying that he came not for the healthy but the sick. Is our chasing after people who see themselves as well-adjusted and basically comfortable a misunderstanding of Jesus’ ministry?

Of course, a great counter point to my argument are all those beautiful and packed mega-churches sitting right in the heart of some of most affluent communities in America. Rich and powerful people have spiritual needs, too, I’ve been told more than once.

But I can’t shake this thought that my most effective moments in ministry have been with those who are already conscious of their suffering or unhappiness or pain. Perhaps it is just not my gift to shake the sand that so many people build their lives upon. When God has used me the most, it has been with people already aware that the flood waters and storms have washed away what they had been building their life upon. Could it be that discontent is the soil in which the seeds of faith find root?

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 2:17)

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4 thoughts on “Not the healthy but the sick

  1. John, thank you for your post. You write well. I am in the middle of trying to reach out to my middle brother who just three weeks ago lost his wife of 26 years. A senseless, and tragic car accident took her while my brother and she were on vacation. Our family is strong and surrounding him at this time. Their two college-aged children are soon to return back to school. An additional brother, my youngest and I are strong believers, my youngest brother an ordained minister. We both seek to reach out to our middle brother who at this time is mourning the loss of his dear wife and companion. Reading your post assured me that in time, this tragedy, much like the corn of wheat that has fallen to the ground, will produce fruit. Again, thank you for the post.

  2. John,

    As someone who ministers to people who play RPGs, I can tell you there is brokenness and pain in those communities. Many see themselves as hurting and broken while finding those games as a respite from the difficult times.

    Part of our calling is to be present within communities of people that we might be available to them during their times of poverty and pain. This is why we, as pastors, are not called to a congregation but to a community. It is only in the context of community that we can be present when those needs arise.

    Wesley was able to speak to the “plain people” because he was consistent in his ministry to them. They saw him time and again and this opened the doors for those words of grace and healing.

    The Geekpreacher

    1. Thanks, Derek. I hope you heard no condemnation of RPGs in my post. I myself have played those for many years as well as miniature wargames.

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