"Dude, high five!"
1After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ 7The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ 8Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath.
Here's my sermon for this Sunday:
Jesus asks “do you want to be made well?’” a yes or no question.
does he get a yes or no answer? not so much.
what he does get to his yes or no question is this:
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
This is kind of a puzzling anwer to the “do you want to be made well” question isn’t it?
To be honest, the first time I looked over our text for today my first reaction wasn’t “oh, what a beautiful healing narrative”, it wasn’t even “wow, what a weird healing narrative”....trust me, we’ll get to that, but was “where the heck is verse 4?” Well, lest we think there is some Divinci Code conspiracy to keep verse 4 from us, I’ll assure you, that verse 4 is included in some Bibles and in one family of ancient manuscripts, but not in others. If you have a King James version at home you’ll see there’s a verse 4 in there. Here’s what verse 4 says...... ***For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.***
So given that information, the answer to Jesus’ question-“Do you want to be made well?” being, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” makes more sense.
But still, that’s a bit disturbing isn’t it?First invalid in the pool gets healed? What kind of theology is that?
Can you imagine being that guy? Sitting at the pool for 38 years waiting for someone to carry you in so that you’re the first invalid in the pool. Kind of explains the man’s answer though doesn’t is? Here’s how I imagine the lame man heard Jesus’ question: “Do you WANT to be healed? I mean come on already, Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”
So he was a little defensive, who can blame him? Hey, “no one will carry me down and when I try and hobble down myself, other guys get in front of me I’ve tried and tried to be made whole, but it never happens.“ He’s basically saying to Jesus :cut me some slack here.
My theory is that he misheard the question due straight up to sin. I’m talking straight up sin.
and that sin is a woeful lack of imagination
does that ever fit into our confession?I confess that I’ve sinned against you in thought, word and deed.....and by a woeful lack of imagination.
the sin of lacking imagination looks like this:
it’s as though Jesus has an airplane and is asking :would you like to go flying? and we say “sounds nice, but I don’t think I have the arm strength to get that thing in the air”
The man at the pool, like us, Completely fails to understand what is being offered to him and, like us, is entirely unable to see that the Son of God LIVING WATER is right before him offering peace and wholeness and God’s shalom. But he’s just looking for a lift into the pool.. but still....and here’s the cool thing folks, Jesus heals him anyway... knowing that he didn’t even have the capacity to answer the yes or no question..... knowing that unlike the other healing stories there was no crowd watching who are going to witness this miracle and believeth...... perhaps even knowing that this guy still wouldn’t get it. he healed him. He looked on him and despite his inadequacies, or maybe, just maybe ...BECAUSE of his inadequacies, he healed him. God didn’t insist that this lame man have the right attitude, or that he even understand what was being accomplished in him. no. he was unknowingly conscripted into the opus dei, the work of God without being qualified, likable, worthy or even terribly bright.
so Jesus heals the guy who doesn’t even understand his question, he receives God’s shalom without even having seen it as a possibility, much less having earned it in some way..
This irony is the great thing about John’s gospel, as Tom Thatcher suggests, we get to snicker at all the characters, the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, this guy....who, unlike us, didn’t have the benefit of reading John’s prologue to his gospel account. you know, the word was with God and the Word was God and the word was made flesh. You see, we know by reading John’s prologue that Jesus isn’t just another weird Galilean, but is God made flesh. He’s not just another prophet, but is LIVING WATER. this is not information the characters who encounter Jesus have the benefit of knowing. So we chuckle at people like the lame man at the pool who doesn’t understand what is really going on, who doesn’t understand who’s really talking to him. We snicker, that is, until the last verse of this passage when we find out the joke is really on us. Jesus just healed a man who had been sick for 38 years, tells him to walk and carry his mat which we might think was just a little housekeeping detail...”don’t just leave your matt here for someone else to have to pick up”. But we don’t really get what’s going on until that last verse when the tables are turned on us ....you see, we think we know what’s going on ...that the son of God is healing a lame man...until these 5 little words “this happened on the sabbath”. what! We thought it was all about the healing of a man who doesn’t get it, but no... Now it is US who don’t have the benefit of important background information that might help us understand the importance of this interaction. Now, in the verses that follow our reading for this morning the man encounters leaders from the temple who say “who told you to carry your matt on the sabbath...yada yada..”.but lest we use yet another opportunity to deride the Jews for their ridiculous rules....we should consider the possibility that when we see Jesus doing something he shouldn’t be doing on the sabbath, this is an invitation for us to reflect on how much we love, I mean LOVE to limit how and with what or whom we think God can be at work in the world.......
a woeful lack of imagination
this happens in two ways, - one:
We kind of have the tendency to limit how we think God might use others. Look again at the text. Not only is the lame man at the Bethesda pool lacking imagination, he’s doesn’t even have the manners to ask Jesus’ name...when the leaders at the temple ask who healed him he’s like “I don’t know, some guy” In other healing narratives, the one who is healed believes and so do the witnesses to the healing, then they praise God and it’s a big victory party. Not here. So in our lack of imagination we like to think that God only is at work in those who believe, those who are grateful, those who are deserving. Not here. When Jesus tells him to walk and carry his mat on the sabbath, he is conscripted into God’s redeeming work in the world and he’s not even necessarily a believer....doesn’t even know Jesus’ name! Ultimately, what is considered sacred is changing and the lame man is swept up into this expanding sacrality of the Kingdom of God.
Here as always Jesus is messing with our heads. Upturning our assumptions, inverting our values and loving our brokeness.
Secondly, these sabbath violations are all about us and how we like to limit how we think God can work through us in the world....
woeful lack of imagination
It’s remarkable to me that despite the fact that just about every hero in the bible is really an anti-hero of some sort- David the adulterer, Mary Magdalene the demonic, Peter the denier, Mary the unwed mother, Rahab the prostitute...despite all that, we’re still sure that God can only use perfect people, or at the very least, people better than us . Show me one character (who isn’t the second person of the trinity) in the Bible , used to participate in God’s work who was used because they were perfect, or grateful, or worthy
How do we answer when asked if we want to be made whole? Are we imaginative? We have a healing ministry right here at Bethlehem...Stephan ministers offer healing prayer on the first sunday...., not just for those who are in need of physical healing, but those who are in need of blessing, of encouragement, in need of God’s shalom.....and that’s ALL of us. I know I hesitate to take advantage of this because if I admitted that I need healing then others may think that I need healing and would then they’d assume I’m not perfect and we just can’t have that sort of thing going on.
I wonder if God is saying to us: “do you want to be made whole, to
participate in the inbreaking of my kingdom here and now...to
glimpse the New Jerusalem?
and then we say: Dude, we’re just hoping for a lift into the pool.
A woeful lack of imagination
Our lack of imagination doesn’t keep God from washing us up into God’s work...work that is happening often far outside of where we look for it. Our lack of imagination, like that of the lame man in John, just keeps us from naming who healed us, naming who reconciled a broken relationship, who healed our fractured selves.
Beloved of God, Hear the good news:
While we might settle for just a lift into the pool, right in front of us is living water....water available to all .... even us, the young, the old, the smug, the overlooked, the single mothers, the housewives, homeless and the business executives. Water which sweeps us up into God’s work in the world. Not through our own righteousness, not through our own perfection but through the grace of a loving baffling God. The availability of this water has nothing to do with believing or being grateful, or being worthy. It has to do with being. Being children of God in this creation of God’s and being caught up into the work of God.
You are made whole by living water of the risen Christ, may you continue to be swept up into the unexpected and baffling shalom of God.