“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.”
-Jesus (Matthew 9:12-13)
We’re getting deeper and deeper into our 40 day desert experience that moves us toward the renewal of Easter. Part of the ecclesiological significance of Lent being 40 days long is that it reflects Jesus' own 40 days in the desert that began his public ministry. He was driven by prayer out to the desert where he painfully worked out his own identity and oneness with God, dealing with temptations to satisfy himself, to receive recognition, and to compromise his ethics in order to gain authority. But he also just lived in a barren wilderness during those days, acutely aware of he lacked. One fascinating film depiction of this experience is called Last Days in the Desert, where a windstorm blows up against Yeshua and the only response he has left is simply to scream into the sandblast, as if admitting that he nearly was at the end of what he could handle.
Jesus was needy.
That doesn’t sit well with us, does it?
"The neediness of Jesus" doesn’t sound like a book title that would sell as many copies as something like, I don’t know, The Purpose Driven Life. Yet it’s important for us to have this example so that we can reflect on what faithful “neediness” looks like. Because it’s a crucial part of honest faith.
Our self-sufficiency has turned us into people who are not comfortable admitting our own needs. We act as if the ones who have no noticeable needs are the ones who have arrived. And maybe they have arrived. But the important question that we have to ask is, arrived where?
I think Jesus would say that the ones who can't admit their needs have arrived…. at a place far away from where he is.
I spoke earlier this week about a statement Jesus made in Matthew 9. He was eating with outsiders and speaking to disgruntled Pharisees about how they still hadn’t learned that God’s character is more about mercy rather than religious ritual. Around that statement he says this: It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick! Then a moment later he gets even more direct: I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners!
Well gosh, what have I been working so hard on for all these years??? Just kidding. Trying to be live rightly is good if you go at it humbly. The problem is when it leads us to think we don’t need God, or we’re not allowed to admit our weakness. Then it literally becomes anti-christian. Instead, Jesus says that admitting we’re in need is how we access the beauty and power of God’s redemption.
When Jesus is confronted with his own need in the desert, he brings it before the father in honesty and trust. Jesus was showing us, even as he worked it out himself, what faithfulness looks like in raw human life. Honesty and vulnerability always win over self-sufficiency.
Lent might be the most appropriate time of the entire year to say to God, “You know what? This stinks. I’m not even sure I can handle the things going on in my life. I feel weak and frustrated. Honestly, I’m just pretty needy right now, God. Can you meet me in this?"
In the desert, the promise is that God’s strength comes in the midst of weakness.
The promise is that love emerges when the self reaches its limitations.
The promise is that Jesus transforms us into deeply loved and deeply loving disciples when we become a little more needy.
I’m often tempted to think that Jesus’ "healthy and sick" statement was to convince us to be like Jesus the compassionate doctor… but maybe what I need to learn right now is how to actually be the patient. When we can be honest about what's not right in us (without shame!), we can become available for Jesus the healer to do his work.
You will indeed be sustained for life's journey when your limitations drive you toward God and his global body (the church) and not away from them. But stating that doesn't make it easier to actually do.
Arrogance and stoicism have been the mark of too many Christians over the decades. It’s ok to be needy this season.
Jesus, teach me to be honest about my need for you today, so that I can receive your grace and live a renewed life of trust.