While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and “sinners”? On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Prayer is going to the Great Physician and admitting that we are not well. The reality of our soul sickness is not an easy thing for us to fully admit. We may know the truth about our soul sickness only in an abstract way. The full reality of it may be more than we can face. Instead of facing our soul sickness we may keep ourselves busy trying to look good. We may work hard at being righteous. We may desperately try to convince ourselves and others that we are spiritually healthy.
In some ways it can come as a relief when this facade begins to crumble. As distressing as it is to see our soul sickness, it can be a relief to heed what Jesus says in this text. It can be a relief to stop pretending to be spiritually healthy and to allow ourselves to fall into God’s merciful, healing hands.
The religious leaders and teachers to whom Jesus was speaking in this passage were much like us. They were working hard to be the best. They were striving to be perfect spiritually. They saw themselves as spiritually healthy.
But, like us all, they were sick. They were sick with fear and shame that they hid from themselves and others. They were sick with guilt and dishonesty. They were sick with pride and greed. They were sick with self-serving and self-reliance. They were sick with defensiveness, with resentments, with judgments. They were so spiritually sick that they judged Jesus for showing mercy and grace to others. They were so spiritually sick that they did not see that they were in need of God’s healing mercy.
Prayer is letting this exhausting facade of spiritual self righteousness crumble. Prayer is admitting that we are sick and in need of a doctor.
Prayer allows us to stop trying harder and harder to heal ourselves. Prayer is entrusting ourselves to the great mercy of God, the Healer.
Like any good physician it is God’s desire for us that we acknowledge our sickness, not to shame us or judge us, but to begin a process of treatments that will lead to our healing and freedom. Prayer is going to the doctor so that the doctor can help us get well.
I have been working hard to convince myself
and others that I am spiritually healthy.
I have been proud
of how good I am,
of how righteous I am,
and even of how humble I can be.
This facade is crumbling.
I am experiencing the reality of my soul sickness.
I see how my self-reliance, my judgments and
my religious pride has hurt me and hurt others.
I see how it keeps me and those I judge from
your great mercy.
I am in need of your healing mercy.
I am in need of a physician.
I cannot heal myself.
Heal me, make me whole.
In a time of quiet reflection, ask God to show you the symptoms of your soul sickness.
Take some time to acknowledge your need for God to be your Physician.
Ask God to help you to entrust yourself to God’s mercies and healing powers.