Walking into a hospital, we all have certain expectations. For one, it’s not designed to make us feel good. I wouldn’t expect any of you to decide to spend your time there on a Friday night. Of course not, you’d rather be yucking it up at the local comedy club, checking out the newest restaurant up the street, or being wowed by the latest Marvel movie at the hip theater downtown.
This seems obvious. As humans, we naturally gravitate towards those things that make us feel good, that make us comfortable, that make us happy. A hospital is anything but. If an entertainment establishment made you feel the way a hospital does, then it would surely go out of business.
Yet a hospital doesn’t have to make you feel good in order to stay booked. It doesn’t have to make you feel comfortable to keep consumption of their product at a steady rate. It doesn’t have to make you happy to stay in business.
It’s simple, really. It has everything to do with expectations and needs. We expect the hospital to harbor sick people. We expect it to be full of people who are sad, and in pain, and beyond uncomfortable. And the hospital is still thriving as a business. Why?
Because the hospital is necessary. It’s something we need and depend on. For some, it’s their only hope to have their lives saved. As long as people are sick, the hospital will exist.
In the story of the good Samaritan, the place that the beaten man was taken was an inn. Like motels, inns are seen as a refuge. A place to get away from the storm. A place of rest. A place of comfort.
So what do hospitals and inns have in common?
In ancient times, inns were sometimes multi-functional. They weren’t always there just to provide a place to stay. They also had the ability to house the sick, so that they could be attended to by a local physician.
In the story of the good Samaritan, it’s important to not miss the power of this symbol. We of course have heard the story enough to know that we should be more like the Samaritan in the story, and less like the priest or the levite. But have we ever stopped to consider the role of the the inn itself?
It’s crucial for us to not to miss the power behind this symbol. Remember the question Jesus was asked that led to the story in the first place? After a discussion about the two greatest commandments (Luke 10:25–28), Jesus tells this this story in order to convey the lengths we are to go to demonstrate love.
What if we as the Church looked more like the inn? What if we acted more like the Samaritan when we saw someone in need, or more like the innkeeper by opening our home or our church to the least among us, or more like the inn itself, providing a place of refuge and comfort, healing and hope?
The Church is supposed to look like this ancient inn. It is supposed to welcome those who are not like us, be a provider and comforter to those who are oppressed and hurting, and a healer for those whose souls are broken and far away from God.
Spiritually, the church is both an inn and a hospital, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find it full of people who are broken, oppressed, estranged and defeated.
Just like the lawyer asked the wrong question when he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), we need to make sure we aren’t asking the wrong questions.
What are we doing as a church to look more like a spiritual inn and hospital? In what ways are we providing refuge and comfort, healing and hope?
But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”
— Luke 5:30–32