Compassion for an Invalid

John 5:1-9 (5:6) – August 13, 2017

John 5-6 Jesus, Bethesda icon

“Compassion for an Invalid”

Have you ever heard of a really whacky, old-time law that is still on the books? There are some doozies, still on the legal codes of certain municipalities, all across our country today.

To mention a few whacky laws from the past: “It is illegal to mispronounce the name of the city of Joliet, Illinois.” “In Utah, the law requires that daylight be seen between two dancing partners.”  “Michigan law once required taking a census of bees every winter.”  “In Muncie, Indiana, you cannot bring fishing tackle into a cemetery.” And, “A Minnesota law requires that men’s and women’s underwear not be hung on the same clothesline at the same time.” [1]

We can look at these laws today and laugh. However, the folks from years ago who put these laws into place felt strongly about them. They thought these laws were great ideas, and were genuinely concerned about their communities, families, and the well-being of their society.

Let’s take another look at our Scripture passage from John chapter 5, and see what it has to do with rules and rule-following. I’ll read from a modern translation for young people, from Illustrated Children’s Ministries.

“At a festival the Jewish people were observing, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In that city, by the Sheep Gate, there is a pool—its Hebrew name is Beth-zatha—which has five entry spaces. People who are blind, or very sick, or cannot move gather in these spaces.”

Here, the Apostle John sets the stage for us. He gives us the time of year—during one of the great festivals, and the location—Jerusalem. What’s more, John then specifically mentions the place where this healing situation occurs, and gives some description.

To continue: “One man was there who had been ill for almost forty years. Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time. Jesus said to the man, “Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus’s question—“Do you want to be made well?” A really serious question, not to be taken lightly or taken for granted. I think Jesus knew the older man had given up hope, and Jesus had compassion on him: serious compassion. His heart went out to the poor guy. Let’s hear what the invalid’s answer is:

“The man explained, “Sir, I’m alone. There is no one who will put me into the pool when the healing water is stirred up. When I try to get there on my own, I’m too slow—someone else steps down ahead of me.”

This poor guy has been hanging out by the pool of Bethesda for almost forty years! He’s all alone. He’s too slow. He never can make it into the water. I suspect he continued to come to the pool where miracles happen simply because that was where he had gone for so long, that he was in the long-time habit of coming there. Plopping down in “his spot.” What is more, this invalid was at the end of his hope, in terms of hope for a cure ever coming to him.

When, wonder of wonders! What happened?

Jesus said to the invalid, “Stand up. Grab your mat. Walk.” The man did what Jesus said; he could! He was healed! This happened on a Sabbath day.”

Just think of how it feels to be healthy again after you’ve been sick for a couple days. I wonder how amazing it felt for this man Jesus healed who had been sick for 38 years! How would you have responded to Jesus’ healing?

I am absolutely certain that everyone who lived or worked near the pool of Bethesda knew this invalid. He was such a sad, sorry guy with a negative, down-in-the-mouth attitude. However, the Rabbi Jesus knew just where he was hurting, and just where he needed to be healed. Healed in body, yes! Healed also in mind and spirit? Yes, too!

I am not sure whether Jesus touched the muscles and brought them back to wholeness, or whether Jesus healed the joins and tendons and brought the middle-aged invalid back to a full range of motion. (Somehow, I cannot imagine Jesus doing anything less.) This is a miracle story. Jesus did, indeed work a mighty miracle! And, Jesus showed great compassion to this invalid who had been lying next to the pool for almost forty years.

It’s the short sentence at the very end of our Scripture reading today that I would like to highlight. “This happened on a Sabbath day.” Remember how we started this sermon? Talking about some wacky rules and laws? The Jewish religious leaders had some really picky, wacky rules and laws of their own. Just as an example, the Jewish Law said it was illegal for anyone to do any work on a Sabbath day, and for the former invalid to do a simple thing like carry his mat, that was considered work!

Some of the Jewish religious leaders saw the former invalid doing just that: carrying his mat, on his way home. (On his own two healthy feet, by the way.) The religious leaders said this man was breaking the law. They were totally serious about this law code, too!

Remember when I played “Simon Says” with the young people, before the sermon today? You all know the rules in “Simon Says,” how everyone does what the leader says as long as the leader says “Simon Says.” Sometimes, a lot of life can feel like a lot of rules to follow, too. And, sometimes certain rules and laws feel whacky, even ridiculous. Our Lord Jesus knew all of these religious rules, the various Laws of Moses. But Jesus did not always follow them. Like, in this case, where Jesus told the man who used to be an invalid to carry his mat—on the Sabbath day, too!

And, what about Jesus healing on the Sabbath day? The Jewish leaders considered that work, too! There is something the matter with religious people getting outraged about someone being healed—made whole—able to work and walk and be a full member of society again—just because the healing took place on the Sabbath day, the Jewish holy day. (We might examine the priorities of these “super-holy” Jewish religious leaders, for sure.)

Time and time again in the Gospels, Jesus confused and frustrated these same religious leaders. The defense of the Sabbath day laws and rules was “the defense of an entire system of ordering life and religious practice. It is the defense of a particular religious community—” [2]the Jewish community, Jewish society. Jesus questioned these Laws and religious rules in order to help others. [3]

Rosa Parks broke the law by sitting in the front of a bus in Birmingham. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke the law by marching for civil rights and to overcome racism and Jim Crow laws. Our own Pastor Gordon broke the law by traveling to the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960’s and marching with the likes of Mrs. Parks, the Rev. Dr. King, and so many others.

Considering our Gospel reading today, “Jesus brings God into human experience in ways that transcend and transform human definitions and categories.” [4]

What about you? Are you on the side of Jesus? Bringing God into human experience? Can we bring the clarion call of peace and justice into the world, into our neighborhoods and communities, and into the lives of those we love?

And remember, have compassion on everyone around you. Just like Jesus. Love one another, with our actions. Have compassion, just like Jesus.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/12-jesus-heals-man-pool-bethesda-john-51-18

“Jesus Heals the Man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

[2] O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 581.

[3] https://store.illustratedchildrensministry.com/products/an-illustrated-compassion-learning-to-love-like-god

[4] O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 581.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Generous With Our Actions

“Generous With Our Actions”  (delivered at St. Luke’s Church, Morton Grove, Illinois)

John 5:8-9 – March 1, 2015

Ever know someone who is a pessimist? A sad sack? Always down in the mouth? Things constantly seem to go wrong for this poor guy! (Or, girl, depending.) Our Gospel reading has someone who seems to typify this type of person. I am talking about a starring character in this passage from John Chapter 5.

Let’s set the scene. Here we are, in Jerusalem. The Rabbi Jesus came to the city periodically. He was an itinerant rabbi, after all, traveling through Galilee, Judea, even Samaria. Jesus and His followers came to the capital city to worship at the Temple on a regular basis. While Jesus and His friends were walking by a famous healing pool called Bethesda, Jesus must have seen a great number of people who were sick, lame, and otherwise disabled.

According to one of my commentaries, the famous pool was placed right over a stream which still flowed underneath the city of Jerusalem. That reminds me of something we have in abundance here—water! Little streams and waterways flow right through this whole area of Morton Grove, a former wetlands area. Our trustee Bob tells me we have a small section of the church parking lot where there is a source of water underneath. Last summer, when the parking lot was stripped and repaved, the water started bubbling up.

So, I can relate, in part, to this reading. Apparently, the underground stream beneath the pool of Bethesda made the waters of the pool bubble up periodically. And, the folklore of that area had a tale to explain the bubbling. An angel came and stirred the water around. Made it bubble up. The first person in the water after the bubbling was healed! Or so the local tale of healing went. So, many blind, lame, or paralyzed people used to sit or lie on the sides of the pool, just waiting for the next time the waters were stirred up.

It’s not uncommon for people who have various illnesses to gather around mineral springs. Think of the springs around Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Or, in our own country, of the waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Long before the Spaniards arrived on our shores, the waters already had a name for healing and being curative.

Let’s go back to the pool of Bethesda. There was a complication here. A snag. I am not sure exactly how Jesus found out about this particular man—out of all the poor people lying and waiting around the pool. Perhaps He was told about a particularly sad tale about a paralyzed man who had been lying there next to the pool for thirty-eight years. Imagine! Thirty-eight years!

This is the man I was thinking about when I started my sermon. The sad sack. Nothing ever went right for this poor guy! I wouldn’t blame him for being depressed and disappointed with his life. Things certainly hadn’t been particularly rosy for this man. Not for a long time.

Let me ask again. Do you know anyone who often is pessimistic? Sad? Disappointed in life? Has life continued to give him—or youor me—only lemons? I know two people like this. One, in particular, always has problems with his house. He isn’t handy, so he regularly needs to call handymen. Or contractors. Or the plumber. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other. And if it isn’t the house, it’s his car. Almost as if he was walking around underneath a portable raincloud. Raining on his head all the time. Or so it seems.

With a life full of sadness and disappointments, this paralyzed man who had been by the pool for thirty-eight years must have had huge barriers and blocks built up! Built up, at least, in his mind. In his expectations. In his whole demeanor. It’s how he lives. It’s his—sad—lot in life.

What does the Rabbi Jesus ask this man? John tells us Jesus knew the man had been lying there for a long time. But, listen closely to Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made whole?”

Here’s one possible response, borrowed from a sermon by a fellow minister.

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here. So, thanks all the same, Jesus, but I’ll just continue to lie here.” This kind of response from the man can be understandable.

Let’s go one step further and listen again to this middle-aged, perhaps even older paralyzed man grumbling to Jesus. “These young whippersnappers, lying next to the pool! Can you imagine, these young punks can get to the water before me! Then, they get healed! So, I’m always too late!” As we listen, we can hear this man’s chronic complaining, his excuses, his inability to get to the healing waters in time.

We come back to Jesus, again. Remember, He asked this man whether he wanted to be made whole. Essentially, whether he wanted to change. Change can be scary! Change can be different, even difficult—something this man has probably never experienced before! Lying by the pool? Waiting for the waters to bubble up? That’s what that paralyzed man knew, and knew well. Getting up, and being made whole?? That could be really scary for this man!

Jesus knew this man was scared. Tentative. Possibly, downright disbelieving. But—Jesus, being Jesus, knew exactly what this paralyzed man needed. He needed to get actively involved in his own healing! Not simply to be a passive recipient of Jesus’ gift of healing, His gift of generosity. So Jesus said, “Stand up. Take up your mat, and walk.” This man was to take an active part in his own healing process!

We don’t have a blow-by-blow report of exactly what happened as this man tottered to his feet, or how his muscles and ligaments were miraculously healed and renewed, so he could stand and walk again. All we do know is that what Jesus commanded, happened! Praise God!

Just as Jesus did not want this man to passively receive healing, in the same way, Jesus doesn’t want passive people today, people who just lie on the couch, or sit in the pew. He wants us—that’s all of us—to be active! Actively involved in responding in joy, meaning and purpose.

Just as the paralyzed man found his legs were strong, so we can start being active, and finding our legs are strong enough for us to walk—or even sit—beside others who are in pain and need help. Our arms are actively empowered to embrace our enemies and the outcasts. And remember the paralyzed man and his excuses? When we are actively involved in showing people the love and generosity of God, we no longer make excuses.

At this church, we have many ways for members and friends to be active! Actively involved in showing the generosity of Jesus. The Maine Township Food Pantry. By bringing a few cans or jars or boxes for the pantry and putting them in with the rest of the collection out in the narthex, that’s getting involved! What about the Diaper Pantry, our mission agency of the week? We can buy some diapers and drop them off in the collection barrel in the hallway. And, volunteering at the Kids Academy, the preschool here at the church during the week. Come ask me after the service, and I’ll be happy to give you further information. Those are just three of many excellent ways to actively get involved, and to show the love and generosity of God.

God encourages each of us to get up off our mats—off our pews, too. We can go out into the community, and serve others. Just as Jesus did for this paralyzed man, so we are encouraged to be actively generous to others. Like this formerly-paralyzed man, we, too, can walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ.

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)