Several years ago, we had a most unusual visitor to our parish. We were in the midst of Orthros on a Sunday morning, when I heard a loud voice saying something about God. I looked out from the altar and there was a man striding toward the solea with no shirt, barefoot, carrying his shoes in his hands. I immediately went out and greeted him, putting my arm around him. He told me that he had spent the night in an area down by the river and some people had beat him up, stolen his shirt and socks. We made a phone call and had a new shirt and some socks on the way. While we waited, I asked him if he was hungry and he said he was starving. I took him to our fellowship house and made him a sandwich with chips and a soda. As he gobbled them down, he told me some of his story.
He had been a member of a notorious motorcycle gang and had left it to try and do something different with his life. We had a good talk together. The shirt and socks arrived and he was thrilled. His plan was to head to another state south of Colorado. I told him that he was always welcome at our church. The last I saw of him; he was walking down the street with his new shirt that read: “I eat healthy. I only eat organic foods.”
This event came back to my mind as I was preparing the homily on the Gospel story of the Publican (tax collector) and the Pharisee. It reminded me that the Church is a hospital not a country club. It is a place where people can come to receive much needed help. The shirtless man came to the church and found a hospital that cared for him. The tax collector came to the Temple with his brokenness and received the help and the healing he needed from the Lord.
All of us are in need of this “hospital” we call church. We come each Sunday with our own brokenness. We may be suffering from loneliness, anxieties over the future, stress over finances, relationship problems, physical issues…the list of what we may be facing in life goes on and on.
Instead of coming into the Church worried about appearing holy, with our halo being positioned just right like the Pharisee in the Gospel reading, we can bring our own brokenness to the Lord and lay them at His feet. We can ask for His healing ointment to be applied to our issues. May God give us strength to be like the tax collector and bring our brokenness to the Lord. He is the Great Physician of the Hospital. His mercy is without end!