Reject the mindset of the Asklepion
When Debbie and I traveled to the ancient city of Pergamum, in what is now the nation of Turkey, we visited the Asklepion—the ancient hospital/surgery center/health spa. It was so famous in ancient times as a place of healing that even Roman emperors and their families spent time there. A large sign at the official entrance to the Asklepion announced, “Death is not permitted here,” and to protect the reputation of that healing center, no one was permitted to enter unless the priests were certain the person could be healed. They would not take a risk on anyone they thought might die on them.
Unfortunately, often the Christian church acts the same way. Too often, we seem only interested in ministering to those who are already “good” and who will not damage our “good” reputation. We want the “good” people to be at church, and we want the “bad” people to stay away.
Max Lucado shares the story of a church that behaved like the priests of the Asklepion:
“I once knew an extremely courageous lady. She was courageous for several reasons. For one thing, she was waging an uphill battle against alcoholism. For another, she was doing all she could to restore her relationship with God. It’s tough to start over. It’s even tougher to start over when people won’t let you.
“She chose a small church to attend, a church where she knew many members. She thought she’d be received there. One Sunday she parked her car near the church building and got out. As she walked toward the front door, she overheard two ladies talking nearby. The stinging words were not meant for her ears, but she heard them anyway. ‘How long is that alcoholic going to hang around here?’
“She turned and went back to the car. She never entered another church building until she died.” (On the Anvil, p. 119)
When the church takes on the mindset of the Asklepion, we may keep our “good” reputation, but we bring great injury to people whom God loves—people whom Jesus gave His life for.
Jesus is less concerned with reputation and more concerned with reaching out to all in need. Mark records that when Jesus was criticized for enjoying dinner with “tax collectors and sinners,” he replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Apparently, the church is most like Jesus when it gives up worrying about its “good” reputation and focuses, instead, on reaching out to all who struggle in one way or another. The church is most like Jesus when it includes many people of “questionable character.”