Sermon, Easter 6C, Sunday May 5, 2013.
Down by the Poolside
5:1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.5:2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.5:3 In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed.5:5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.5:6 When 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?”5:7 The 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.”5:8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”5:9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
There is nothing quite like sitting on one of those lazyboy outdoor chairs (like the magnificent one I told you about a while back that I now regularly use in my backyard). The one thing that really would top off my relaxation experience in my lazyboy outdoor chair would be a pool. How good is it to sit on a lazyboy chair in the warm sun with your swimmers on right on the edge of the pool while you slowly partake of a cold beverage of some kind!?
(What are the chances of the church putting in a pool at the manse?)
This little account of a rather strange little happening by the Pool of Bethesda in the city of Jerusalem in Jesus ministry probably was a little less frivolous and carefree than my poolside imagination – particularly for the many disabled people who spent all their waking hours trying to find a morsel of relief and hope in the healing waters of the bubbling pool.
It is festival time in the city, we hear. Jesus and his friends have made the journey from up north in Galilee, via Samaria where they met the woman at the well. Now they are in the over- crowded city packed with people from all over the country. This is now one very busy pool!
That means that it would have been even more difficult than it usually would be for this hapless old man with a significant disability to get himself into the water first when the spring bubbled up.
Jesus “sees” this crippled man. He somehow “finds out” that this man has been sitting on his mat at the pool side for a very long time!
The name, “Bethesda” can mean “House of Mercy”. Well, there is not much mercy on display here. It is survival of the fittest in the Darwinian scheme of things.
Pushing and shoving to get in first is the order of the day in this city. Only the able and powerful get the benefits of being well healed. Sounds something like our Western society?
Jesus, who is unknown to this man asks him what sounds like a strange question. Here is a man who has spent most of his life with a significant disability trying to find a cure to his condition by sitting down by this pool of mercy everyday for years. Would you ask him if he wanted to be healed? Seems like a dumb question.
But is it? Does the man really want to be changed, healed, restored to former days? It would be hard to be able to walk after not being able to walk for so long. This man’s whole life has come to revolve around a comfortable and known routine and place. Every day he does the same thing. In this rhythm of the day he knows who he is and where he fits. In his day he can receive some help by begging – some income and some small mercy from others.
“Do you want to be healed? asks Jesus. “You are making all the right gestures and yet, it may be that it is easier for you stay comfortable and even content in your condition than be released from it and have to try and make a new life for yourself”.
We can be like this. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t”, we say. Easier to stay miserable in our wrong doing and bad habits and relationships than be set free from them and have to live with the consequences of God’s healing change…
It is interesting how the old man responds to this question aimed at the heart. Instead of just saying, “Yes! I do want to be healed,” he moves to make excuses and shoves the blame on to someone else—a nameless “no one” who is “everyone”.
“They” stop me getting a chance at something better. Other people keep me down. “They are to blame for my trouble and my pain.
Sounds like us too at times? Easier to blame the government, the spouse, the kids, the parents, the system or the devil for my troubles and my anger and sadness than to face it and bring it to the God of healing and life in Jesus’ name and ask him to help, to heal and to change me.
A Worse Paralysis
So we are hearing that this old man is much more than blind, lame or paralysed physically. He is these things spiritually and that is a worse condition. Refusing to receive and live in Christ’s healing word leads to something “worse,” Jesus says (5:14). A greater sin. The sin of refusing to receive God’s mercy at its best and, therefore, the refusing to receive in the long run God’s own gracious self offered in Christ. What a shame! This is our ultimate illness and un-wellness.
Jesus Makes Well
Despite the invalid’s disability and inability to seek Jesus’ healing – God at his healing and loving best acts anyway. Jesus the “good shepherd” by the “sheep gate” who “saw,” “learned about,” and “asked him” about his desire to be made well, now simply heals this physically and spiritually crippled man – even without being asked.
Jesus is doing what our God-Father does—gives life to those whom he wishes and raises the dead. And the good news is that he wishes to give life to all life’s “invalids” —of which there are “many.”
Rise, Roll Up Your Excuses & Walk
Like a doctor’s visit, being touched by Jesus doesn’t have much of a lasting benefit without some follow-through and cooperation on the patient’s part. There is a “walk” that needs to go with the “talk”.
This healed man needs to respond and he does. He does what Jesus says. He picks up his little mat and walks off.
Jesus calls us to walk the talk too. He says to all of us today, “Rise, roll up the bed of excuses you’ve been lying on; see, you have been made well.”
We have been made well. We live in the House of Mercy under the care and protection of the Good Shepherd who is the Gate for the Sheep – the entrance to full and meaningful life in the here and now.
We live on the side of angels who show us the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
We live by God’s grace and authority in the festival city where the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month lives and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
There is nothing accursed found by God or each other in us anymore. What is in our lives in and our hearts is the throne of God and of the Lamb where we, his servants worship him; seeing his face and carrying his name – the name of Jesus in our healed and forgiven bodies.
A House of Mercy
Down by the poolside we got healed. We got saved. We got filled with the Spirit and now we who walk the talk are a “house of mercy”.
Like this old man, we did not deserve it or earn it. He did not even know who it was that healed him and gave him a way to walk on in life.
Jesus seeks this man out again later on. Jesus finds this now walking man in the temple – a place from which he had been excluded for those 38 years. His healing was also his forgiveness of the sin of not trusting God with all his heart, mind and strength. His healing and forgiveness are his restoration to community – the worshiping community – the new song of faith in the community of God.
Isn’t this what we want to be a part of in our local church? Don’t we want to help sinners find healing and restoration to their Creator and Saviour by the power of the Spirit. Isn’t that what church is really all about. Aren’t we the community who are a House of Mercy here? I believe so and I see so too.
We are a house of mercy and long may we grow in being even more a House of Mercy for all people.
To do so, we need to respond to that question Jesus aims right to the heart. Do you want to be healed?
As we say, “Yes, I do want to be healed – all the time; I do you want your word in my life; I do want your mercy in my veins; I do want your living water in my decisions, my relationships and my work”, then we will be walking the talk of faith and we will be his house of mercy.
What are the one or two things that strike you as being a little unexpected about this account of Jesus and this crippled man? Write them down and share them.
It is noteworthy that the man does not even know who Jesus is when Jesus heals him. The man does not really say “yes” to the question by Jesus, “Do you want to be healed?”. What do you make of that and what does this say to you about how Jesus treats people (and you and me)?
What do you make of the healed man’s confession of faith he says to the religious leaders when they question him about how he got to walk? is bearing witness to Jesus in our own lives and situations really that simple?
What does that last word from Jesus mean. he has healed this man. The man does not know who Jesus is. Jesus follows up when in the temple later on and says”Stop sinning or something worse might happen to you”.
What is the man’s sin? Is it trusting a magic pool rather than the Word of Jesus?
Is it blaming others for his lack of opportunity to be well rather than seeking God for his wellness?
Is is not recognising God’s presence and activity in his life?
And what would a worse thing then being being crippled for 38 years and sitting by this pool trying to find healing? Would it be living your life without the freedom and healing of Jesus’ forgiveness and/or other things?
What would be worse than being crippled for 38 years and spending every waking hour trying to be healed? Maybe not living in God’s forgiveness given in Jesus? What do you think?