The spiritual stirring of an inflamed appendix
A Reflection for Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Find today’s readings here.
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
I am actively knocking on wood as I type this, but I have only ever needed to go to the hospital once in my life. Again, knocking on wood, I have never needed surgery, stitches, a cast for a broken bone, crutches: none of that. It was a vestigial organ that did me in; my appendix became inflamed when I was in the seventh grade.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, when all of a sudden, an immense pain in the right side of my lower chest began pulsating—a telltale sign of appendicitis. By some miracle, the day before the doctors were to prepare a room for surgery to remove the appendix, I felt good as new and was released from the hospital instead.
The pain of the inflamed appendix was immediate and clearly telling me that there was something wrong with me physically. But our spiritual needs are not as overt and are oftentimes much more challenging.
Jesus knew this well. Perhaps one of the most recognizable lines in the Bible appears in today’s Gospel reading, when Jesus tells the Pharisees who are questioning his decision to dine with tax collectors and sinners, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
As humans, we know that we sin. Frequently. This is usually a thought that gets buried down in our subconscious, only emerging when we feel especially guilty or sorry for something we have done.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
While it would be too demanding of us to actively keep track of every single wrongdoing we have committed, Jesus’ words invite us to reflect on our sinful nature and open the door to repentance in a non-judgmental manner.
A doctor would not judge a cancer patient who developed their disease by smoking cigarettes; instead, they would treat the patient with the utmost compassion and care possible. The nature of God is similar. We may think that God would never accept the worst parts of ourselves, but this could not be further from the truth.
There are very few times in the Bible in which Jesus gives a fiery condemnation against sinners. Instead, he places himself squarely amongst the hated and the scorned, instructing them that it is never too late to seek solace in God’s eternal capacity to forgive.
In the verse before the Gospel, this message is amplified even further: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.” The fact that Jesus would rather see adulterers and thieves amongst the Kingdom of God rather than off the face of the earth tells me all I need to know about how crucial forgiveness and repentance are to understanding our faith.
It doesn’t take a spiritual stirring as noticeable as an inflamed appendix to ask for God’s forgiveness. God loves us, sinners, as we are, echoed in his son’s message to those that lived in glass houses.