“The Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.”

This quote is one I return to a lot when I’m struggling to remember my place in the Church — when I’m falling back into old sins, when I’m finding myself unworthy of God’s grace, when I feel like I don’t belong in a holy place around holy people. It’s the quote that I had in mind as I stood in line for Confession, knowing I’d have to confess that one sin I’d told my confessor so many times before. I was totally ashamed and frustrated by my weakness.

But still, amidst all that shame and frustration, I knew I needed healing, and I knew I couldn’t go anywhere else for the particular healing I needed. After naming my sin and owning my brokenness, through tears and with frustration in my heart, the priest did not hesitate to say those most liberating words: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I was healed of my sin and made new. I’m wildly undeserving of that gift, but still, Jesus, through the priest, was so eager to give it to me, because He longs for me to be made whole, by being united to Him.

This idea of the Church being a hospital for sinners is one that resonates deeply with me because I’ve struggled a lot with reconciling my sinfulness with God’s perfect love. I’ve struggled with this because NEWS FLASH: I literally cannot reconcile my sinfulness with God’s perfect love. That’s the amazingness of His love — it’s given by Him and there’s nothing I can do by my own power to be worthy of it.

The Church is this incredible hospital, where the divine Doctor calls the sickest of the sick so that He can perform miraculous heart transplants on them, exchanging their hearts for His, pouring His very life into their death. I can say this honestly because I’m a recipient of His care — I’m one of those perpetually sick patients that no other doctor can heal. I’m a sinner, broken and ashamed, that Jesus is continually loving and forgiving back into wholeness.

The Lie of Self-Saving

What breaks my heart, though, having been a recipient of this healing mercy, is that, somewhere between the pews and the streets, this message of Jesus’ desire to make the broken whole has been twisted. The world seems to believe that the Church exists to make good people feel better and bad people feel worse — that Jesus didn’t come to heal our brokenness, but just to make us feel guilty for having it, as if He’s the divine Doctor that only wants to see healthy patients. But Jesus addressed this misunderstanding quite explicitly during His earthly ministry:

While dining in the home of Levi, a well-known tax collector (AKA bad Jew, unholy, not good), Jesus and His disciples were challenged by the religious elite of the time, who were asking “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” to which Jesus replied, “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” Luke 5:27-32.

Jesus tells us directly that His work of salvation isn’t for those who don’t think they need saving. It’s for those of us who can see our own brokenness and reach out to Him, like a sick person on a hospital bed, and beg to be healed. His love and mercy offered through the Church is for those of us who still need healing, not for those who have figured it out on their own. Still, though, despite this direct statement, many have been deceived to believe that the Church is where you go when you have it all together, not when you’re a work in progress.

If that’s you, if any part of you believes you need to become perfect, holy or pure to approach Jesus in the Church, I need you to trust me when I tell you these two things:

1. Jesus doesn’t want you to put on an act for Him
Jesus isn’t interested in an artificial relationship with you. He doesn’t want you to come to Him looking like what your idea of a good Christian is, because that’s not a relationship with who you really are — that’s a relationship with an artificial idea. He’s desperate for relationship with you and everything that comes along with that.

2. Jesus wants all the mess of you as you are right now
You can’t be saved by a Savior if you’ve already “saved” yourself, just like you can’t be healed by a doctor if you’ve already bandaged up your wound and are telling yourself that it isn’t there. Jesus doesn’t want to wait around for you to make yourself perfect, clean, and whole before you approach Him. He wants you to come to Him right now, in whatever brokenness you find yourself in, be it difficult circumstances, shame from a serious sin, regret from a lost relationship, or any other type of brokenness — because He wants to make you new.

If you think you won’t fit in among the “church people,” let me remind you that “church people” are only different from the greatest sinners in that they recognize their need for a Savior. You only won’t fit in if you come to Jesus acting as if you don’t need Him — as if He’s some pious add-on to your already righteous life.

If you think your past is too complicated, you belong. If you think your family is too messed up, you belong. If you think your faith is too small, you belong. If you think your sin is too great, you belong. If you’re broken, you belong. The broken belong to the Church because Jesus didn’t come to make the whole more whole. He came for the broken.

About the Author

Leah Murphy

As a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University, with a background in video and a passion for that wild place where faith and culture meet, she lives to tell God's love story to the world, in the digital space. Dwelling in California, she spends all her free time doing all the things with her friends, enjoying the best music out there, and going on every adventure that comes her way.

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