2014-02-09 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
GodStory, Act IV: Jesus
Key Event #23 of 40
Reading: John 5:1-17
Title: “½ Baked Healing of the ½ Dead Man”
Were on the move with Jesus and this week we find ourselves in the midst of another Jewish festival…it’s a hoppin’ weekend in Jerusalem and Jesus is milling about with his disciples at one of his favourite hangouts…the Temple…bantering with the theologians, talking about the Kingdom of God being here…speaking of mysteries of what it means to be “born from above” and answering questions from the commoners about all the wild and strange work that’s been happening in the rural boonies of Galilee and even in the “armpit” region of Judea…Samaria!
“I’ve heard that you and your disciples turned Sychar upsidedown! That the whole town has converted to the ways of the ‘Son of God’. Is it true that you really are who they say you are?”
-The Lamb of God?
-The King of Israel?
Other voices are not so kind…murmuring loaded with lots of shame… “Getting so many drunk at that Capernaum wedding…and having your mother there…it must have been so embarrassing for her to see her grown son contribute to such a reckless party!”
But another yells out: “I’ve heard that he even raises people from the dead!
You say he’s just been making people drunk in Capernaum, I’ve heard that the Royal Official’s son in that same town…the son who was on his deathbed, is now healed and whole!”
Jesus and his disciples move away from the centre of the temple courts and walk towards the fringes of the temple area…the crowd thins & the clamour of voices fade as Jesus makes his way to the outer gate and arrives at the pool of Beth-esda. Imagine a pool the size of a football field with 20 foot high walls around the perimeter and another wall splitting the pool into 2 smaller pools. There are 5 porches on the perimeter and Jesus enters though the middle one that leads into the center wall area…it’s the busiest entryway and leads to the an inner plateau where over 200 “low profile/low life” people are laying about and trying to catch a break or turn a trick. Imagine the Cantina bar scene at Tatooine in Star Wars part IV. Strange cigars, strange drinks, Han Solo laying low in the shadows scrounging up work so that he can pay back the debt that he owes to Jabba the Hutt.
Jesus is moving among the “socially expendable”…the pool side is full of beggars, prostitutes, day laborers, peddlers, crooks, hustlers, penny merchants…this is nothing like club med or a pool resort…this is crapsville…and it smells like it too…dirty, stinky, muggy, rank…not a place for the weak of stomach…
And rumour has it that there are magical powers in these pools…and once or twice a day, when the waters bubble and stir, the first one in the pool receives a magical healing. Those with wounds and sores, find healing. Those who are blind receive their sight. And those who are lame and crippled can walk again!
Jesus wanders quietly through the crowds for 15 minutes but it feels like an hour or 2 for the disciples…the thick, soggy stench is overwhelming and they drift to the perimeter of the crowd in order to get away from the stench, people groping at their robes and the cries of distress…
Jesus is in conversation with a woman who points to a crippled man who is slowly making his way towards the pool…his legs drag behind him as he elbows his way along the ground, trying to maneuver his body and his tattered sleeping mat through bodies, blankets and make-shift tents.
Jesus learns that this man has been lame for 38 years…he kneels close to the crippled one and asks:
“Do you want to get well?”
The puzzled man avoids the question and speaks with a tired and gravelly voice: “Sir, with all due respect…I don’t have a single friend in the world who will put me in the pool when the water is stirring…while I’m on my way there, someone else gets in ahead of me!”
Jesus stands up before the crippled man and simply says:
“Get up! Pick up your mattress and walk!”
Jesus says it again, louder this time…
“Get UP! Pick your mattress….walk!”
The crippled man pushes himself over his bent legs and then to his astonishment, after being on all fours, is able to stand! After 4 decades of disability…the man stands, bends…stays balanced…he picks up his mat and makes steps like a toddler…his eyes beaming with delight and surprise….a smile frozen on his face…
Those in the immediate vicinity are astonished! Is this the one who has been lame for 40 years??? A thin, bony old woman with a toothless grin cries out “He’s risen! He’s risen! Look at this fool, he walks again!”
The 70-year old man stumbles out of the poolside porch and starts walking and half-running towards the Temple courts. He’s not an overly religious man but he knows enough to go to a religious space and give some kind of thanks for what has happened. It takes him 30 minutes to get to the temple courts and as he gets close to one of the prayer rooms a group of 10-12 religious leaders grab him by the sleeve of his robe and interrogate him…
“It’s the Sabbath! You shouldn’t be carrying your mattress!”
The man pauses… “Wait a minute, the man who cured me told me to pick up my mattress and walk!”
“Oh really?” they look at him with disgust and suspicion… “And who is THIS MAN, who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man looks at them with a blank stare… he has no answer.
They shove him aside and make their way to another Sabbath prayer session.
The man slips through the crowd, finds a quiet corridor for prayer and gives thanks to God. He knows not whether to laugh or cry…to jump for joy, to scream, to shout…or to hideaway in secrecy…think of all the things I could find, swindle or steal…no one would know that it was me!
Lost in thought and wonder, he re-enters the bustling crowd and runs smack into the one who told him to “get up and walk!”
Jesus grabs him by the shoulders, looks him straight in the eye and declares:
“Look! You have been made well! Don’t sin anymore, or something worse might happen to you!”
The man drops to his knees….in fear, wonder and revelation….is this the carpenter’s son….the one from Nazareth? Jesus?
He leaps up and runs to the religious leaders…interrupting their Sabbath rituals…
“This man, who told me to pick up and walk? It’s Jesus, the son of Joseph!”
You could almost see the steam blowing out of their ears! Their eyes filled with rage and disgust…they grab the once-crippled man and storm towards Jesus who is teaching in the temple courts. They cry out:
“You heal on the sabbath? Why do you do these things on the Sabbath? It’s an outrage!”
“My father is going on working…and so AM I.”
* * * * * * *
If you come to church seeking certainty and certitude…you’d better stop reading about Jesus. We are getting our minds blown again are we not??
Another unnamed person. Living on the margins. In the stinky haze of the shadows near the pool of Bethesda.
This man shows no faith. No belief. No initiative. [If he was wearing a T-shirt, it would say: “My get up & go has got up & went” a la Pete Seeger]
And Jesus heals him!
Is this good news? Or is it a little bit bothersome.
Does Jesus not have any standards? Guidelines? Boundaries? Ethics?
Don’t we sometimes find ourselves siding with the religious rulers and asking: “You’ve got six other days to heal this man, do you have to do it on the Sabbath? You’re flaunting this in our faces…surely you understand why it’s frustrating to us! We’ve got rules, you know….we worship the One True God…and Sabbath is his day of rest, we didn’t make this stuff up! Can’t you see your behaviour is getting in the way of the Law?”
Jesus, the barrier-breaker last week at the Samaritan Well…is the rule-breaker (Sabbath-breaker) this week at the Porticos…he responds:
“My father is going on working…and so AM I”
That last part of the phrase could even be more punchy…
“My father is going on working…and so I AM.”
The religious rulers go beserk as they realize that Jesus is saying that he is God. This is the kind of stuff that will get a man killed in religious circles…and Jesus has just thrown a bucket full of fuel on the fire.
– – – – – – –
So where and what is the good news here? I’d like to suggest 2 declarations from Jesus that ought to shake us up and demand our attention this morning…
— v. 8: “Get up! Pick up your mattress and walk!”
On the surface here, this is Jesus playing favourites…picking out his favourite low-life person in the porticos and basically telling him he just won the lotto!
But remember, we’re in the gospel of John here…and the Johannie writer is always swinging from the earthy to the cosmic.
Yes, Jesus heals a sorry, sick old man in Beth-esda…but in the bigger, cosmic sense, God is at work in the world and the cosmos…God is declaring that he is on the move in the person of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit…and not only is he healing sorry, sick old men…but he is healing our sorry, sick old world!!
God is bringing healing to our world…and to our lives…but the healing is not predictable, and we can’t control how/when God shows up…
And yet in spite of our lack of faith, in spite of our lack of belief, in spite of our tendency to lean upon Jesus-magic and Christian good-luck charms…Jesus still goes on in the world and raises up dead things…he tells us and all of creation to “get up”… to quit our whining and wallowing…for he TRULY is at work….the father is at work…and that is good news for all of us who everyday are at different points of faith or un-faith…belief or dis-belief…hope and hopeless-ness…
There’s another piece of good news…and it’s found in the phrase where Jesus finds the crippled man in his post-healed state, milling around in the temple courts…
— v. 14: “LOOK! You’re better again! Don’t sin any more, or something worse might happen to you!”
This is not to be taken as a threat or an ultimatum. We know that Jesus doesn’t work that way (I hope we do!?).
It is an intriguing rebuke though…but seen in the bigger, cosmic backdrop of “new creation”…this is where Jesus finishes up what I’m calling the “1/2 baked healing.”
He’s healed the crippled man’s body…but now he’s trying to heal his mind, heart and soul!
He grabs this man by the shoulders and shouts: “Look, you’re better! Don’t persist in the way that leads to death…persist in the way that leads to deep, lasting life…new creation has been stirred up in you…now go and live in the way of new creation…the old has gone, the new has come!”
We might imagine Jesus grabbing us by the shoulders…in the most loving way possible…and saying….
“ [insert name here]… my new creation…beloved daughter/son…do not persist in the ways that lead to death…don’t linger in those places where you’re just layed out by the poolside, coming up with excuses and bemoaning your isolation or bad luck…”
Instead, hear the invitation of Jesus, lovingly and boldly saying:
“New Creation! Persist in the way of life…my gift of healing brings new identity and new freedom!”
Hear the invitation of Jesus, wooing us in, to join in on God’s work…
The Presbyterian preacher, Karen Lester, talks about God’s work in John 5:
Jesus is doing God’s work…Like Father, like Son.
On the Sabbath, God does not cease from the work of giving life; neither does Jesus…
Life and love flow from God’s heart at all times and in all places to all people —towards a Samaritan woman, a royal official, and a nameless, sick, lonely man,
even on the Sabbath.
[This] story tells us more than what Jesus can do: it also tells us who Jesus is.
He is the one who “comes from heaven” (3:31) to give life, God’s life, abundant and eternal. He is the one who comes to save the world and its pitiful, lonely, sick inhabitants from perishing (3:16).
…the world could no more restrain Jesus from saving us than it can hold back the tide, for in him, a great wave of salvation surges forth from heaven and will not be stopped, even for a single day, whether the authorities like it or not.
– – – – – –
Our words of confidence and assurance are found in v. 17:
“My father is going on working, and so AM I.”
It echoes the work of the community of God that we talked about last week:
“Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” (4:38)
– – – – – – –
We are not alone (the choir has already told us of this promise today!).
“Life and Love flow from God’s heart at ALL times and in ALL places to ALL people.”
People of God…let us GET UP & WALK together…
And as we do so,
Ephesians 3:20 is an appropriate prayer for us to close with this morning:
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever, Amen.”