An inner city church, located in an area of the downtown where there were few residents, was forced to a decision. A large corporation was offering them a great deal of money for their site, on which the corporation wanted to put a parking lot. The money would enable the church to move to another part of the inner city where they would find many more people to serve. Even though this was exciting to some of the congregation, other members were resistant to the idea. They pointed out that the church was the guardian of a building whose history and architecture reached back into the early part of the nineteenth century. Denominational history had been made in that building, and some of the grand figures of the church had passed its portals.
Eventually the congregation decided to sell the site and make the move to a new building in a teeming inner-city neighborhood. The pastor who was with this congregation through all this upheaval said, “We had to decide whether we wanted to be in a museum or in mission.” They couldn’t have it both ways. It meant either staying on their site, glorying in their past history and serving a few people, or giving up their past and gearing themselves to a significant ministry among the city’s people. They opted for mission status over museum status.
Something of this same struggle is indicated in this scripture passage. The Pharisees and scribes came down on the side of museum religion. They wanted attention given to those who were stable, pious and not a liability if invited to the country club. Theirs was a “let’s have our synagogue programs be for us dependable, like-minded types,” as some present-day church-growth advocates. Jesus disappointed them by insisting that the issue was one of mission: to reach out to those who needed great mercy, lessons in etiquette, social graces, and perhaps a bath. Paying attention to these “lost” persons would change the comfortable fellowship the scribes and Pharisees enjoyed at the synagogue, to say nothing of putting a dent into its budget.
Wallace H. Kirby, If Only…, CSS Publishing Company.