But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” [Matthew 9:11-13 (NLT)]
The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. [John Stott]
Last week, after posting the second of two devotions mentioning David Bennett, Sr. (who received a pig’s heart in a ground-breaking transplant), I checked news links for an update on his condition. I was surprised to learn that 34 years ago, when Bennett was just 23, he was convicted of stabbing Edward Shumaker seven times, a violent assault that left the 22-year-old paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Bennett was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served 6 of those years before returning to society and moving on with his life. As for Shumaker, after enduring 19 years of staph infections, sepsis, bedsores, a stroke, and moving in and out of nursing homes, he died a week before his 41st birthday.
Understandably, Shumaker’s survivors had difficulty processing the news that the man who caused such heartache and suffering for Edward not only went on to have a normal life complete with children and grands but also received a new lease on that life with his life-saving heart transplant. For Shumaker’s sister, it seems outrageous that someone guilty of such a violent crime could undergo this lifesaving procedure when so many more “deserving” recipients die or become too ill for transplant surgery before a heart becomes available.
Officials at the Baltimore hospital where Bennett received his new heart explained that the decision about Bennett’s transplant eligibility was based solely on his medical records, explaining that they provide, “lifesaving care to every patient who comes through their doors based on their medical needs, not their background or life circumstances.” Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at New York University, elaborated, “The key principle in medicine is to treat anyone who is sick, regardless of who they are.…We are not in the business of sorting sinners from saints.”
Caplan’s words made me think of Jesus—the Great Physician who came into this world to heal mankind. There is no record of His assessing the purity or sinfulness of those he restored to determine whether or not they deserved healing. He didn’t evaluate people’s righteousness before making the lame walk, the blind see, or the deaf hear. He didn’t categorize acceptable from unacceptable sins or sort out the honest from the corrupt, the moral from the immoral, or the law-abiding from the criminal before healing leprosy, mental illness, fevers, or hemorrhaging. When He fed the multitude, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to offer food only to those virtuous people worthy of receiving it and He broke bread with both the respectable and the disreputable. When it comes to God’s healing, mercy, love, provision, or forgiveness, not one of us is more or less deserving than the next; none of us are worthy because we all are sinners!
Just as the medical profession is not in the business of sorting sinners from saints, neither is the Church. Someday, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats but, until that day comes, let us remember that His Church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints! We don’t scrutinize those who come to us and weed out all of the swearers, liars, ex-cons, crude, self-righteous, alcoholics, doubters, adulterers, divorced, gossipers, or scoundrels before welcoming them through our doors. If we did, both our pews and pulpits would be empty! Our pasts, no matter how soiled or violent, do not bar us from the healing and restoration of the Lord!
Grace is the very opposite of merit… Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor, shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite. [Harry Ironside]