A Hospice

A. E. Long, Nutley

Part 12 of 12 of the series Metaphors of the Church

"Hospice" is defined as "a house for strangers...a home of refuge", and "Hospitable" as "kind to strangers ... welcoming and generous towards guests". These descriptions fittingly describe what members of a local church should be. They should entertain strangers and make guests welcome. The blessedness of the "sheep" in the parable of the sheep and goats derived from their compassionate treatment of those who were in need, "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me". In doing these things "unto one of the least of these my brethren", said the King, "ye have done it unto me", Matt. 25. 35-40.

These things should also be the concern of all members of the local church, not as though it were merely a social institution, but as being ancillary to its evangelistic outreach. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers (Forget not to show love unto strangers, r.v.): for thereby some have entertained angels unawares", 13. 2. "Entertain" (Greek, xenizo) means "to receive strangers, to receive as a guest". The "Sheep" of the parable were "unaware" of the identity of the ultimate Object of their compassionate treatment of their unfortunate fellows, "when saw we...?", v. 37.

The local church may embrace a wide variety of need, to which it must minister if it is to fulfil its purpose. There may be the "feebleminded" (fainthearted) to "comfort" (encourage) and the "weak" to "support", 1 Thess. 5. 14; cf. Acts 20. 35. "Uncomely" members, 1 Cor. 12. 23, may need special care; those "overtaken in a fault" must be lovingly restored, Gal. 6. 1, and repentant offenders against the moral code must be comforted lest they be "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow", 1 Cor. 5. 1, 13; 2 Cor. 2. 7. There may be "weak hands" to be strengthened, and "feeble knees" to be confirmed; "that which is lame" may need to be healed lest it "be turned out of the way", Heb. 12. 12-13; Isa. 35. 3. Aged saints may need practical help, and discouraged Christians encouragement to continue. All such things come within the scope of Paul's verse, "let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith", Gal. 6. 10; "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it", Prov. 3. 27. To neglect to give practical help to one's brother in need, 1 John 3. 17, is an affront to the love of God; cf. James 2. 15-16. The church should be seen to be a caring society; there will always be those within who need its loving care and yet others on its fringe whose need, if lovingly met, may well bring them into its communion as a result. Medical mission work testifies to this.

The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates this lesson. The man who journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho had been waylaid by brigands, who "stripped him ... and wounded him... leaving him half dead", Luke 10. 30. This was a common enough experience on that road in those times. Whatever we may think about the seemingly callous neglect of the priest and Levite who "both passed by on the other side", had either of them gone to the aid and comfort of the wounded traveller, they would have put themselves at risk of further attack. The Samaritan had no such qualms, but gave the wounded man first aid on the spot, and bound up his wounds with professional skill, applying the usual medicaments of that time, "pouring in oil and wine", v. 34. Having done so, he "brought him to an inn, and took care of him". The word "inn" (Greek, pandocheion, general receiving house) differs from that used of the "inn" (kataluma) which had "no room" for Joseph and Mary, 2. 7.

The Samaritan "took care" of him, and when he departed on the morrow to continue his interrupted journey "he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee", v. 35. Having brought the wounded man to the inn and taken care of him, the Samaritan's interest in the man's recovery did not cease; he purposed to "come again". In the meantime, he committed the man to the "care" of the innkeeper. The Samaritan was a "caring" man; the compassion, v. 33, that he felt for the victim of the assault found practical expression in a sympathetic care for him. He identified himself with the man's situation. The parable teaches that neighbourliness does not merely consist in physical proximity, but in a practical sympathetic response to known need wherever it is met. Can we doubt that the interest of the Samaritan continued into the man's convalescence and recovery?

Paul used the identical expression "take care" (namely, be careful about) in connection with those who aspire to "the office of a bishop", 1 Tim. 3. 1. A necessary qualification was "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity", v. 4, to which Paul added, "for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?", v. 5. Paul did not write "rule the church of God", as the parallel might have suggested, but "take care of". The overseer in the local church must be seen to be a "caring" person towards all to whom he may minister.