Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Sixth Sunday of Easter/Year C: May 26, 2019
Gospel: John 5:1-9
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 26, 2019
Lord, take our minds and think through them. Take our mouths and speak through them. Take our hearts, and set them on fire. Amen.
Can you see him? He is a man without a name. He lies on his mat in one of the porticos at the Pool of Beth-zatha in Jerusalem. We are told that the unnamed man had been ill for 38 years, but we’re kept in the dark about his exact affliction. We can reasonably conclude that he had great difficulty walking if he could walk at all. He braved the enormous crowds gathered in Jerusalem for a religious festival, with the little mobility that he had, hoping to reach what he believed was a source for the healing of his sick body.
The helplessness he felt in not being able to reach the pool, and the hopelessness of the debilitating illness, were heightened each time he was stepped over and pushed aside by the other invalids who were seeking their chance at healing in the pool’s waters. The man’s failure to reach the pool was not due to his lack of trying. He was desperately trying to tap into the mode of healing, and so was everyone else. It was every man for himself, trying to save himself.
The sense of urgency to reach the pool was high because it was believed that when the water was “stirred up” that it was being stirred up by an angel of the Lord. The first person to get into the pool when the water was stirred-up, would experience healing. Even though no one could predict exactly when the water would be stirred up, there was a hopeful expectation, that it would be at some point.
Anyone focused on “being ready” whenever the pool would be stirred up, would be focused on little else. Certainly, there would be little concern for helping one’s neighbor into the pool. There’s an “ancient” saying that might be properly applied to this scenario—“You snooze, you lose.”
When Jesus arrived on the scene he made his way, through the crowd of invalids—the blind, lame and paralyzed—to stand before the helpless man lying on his mat, whom Jesus knew had been there a long time.
Jesus, said to the man, “Do you want to be made well?” The man replied with frustration, wrapped in what might easily be labeled as an excuse, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and even when I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
But, Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be made well?” was deeper than whether or not the man wanted restoration of his physical body. “Do you want to be made well,” is a soul question, asked by the source of eternal life and answered through the depths of this man’s soul.
The Greek word for “made well” is the word Sozo, which means “to save.” When Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be made well?” he was asking, “Do you want to be saved from illness?” “Do you want to be saved from your spiritual suffering?” Do you want to be saved from the oppressive Scribal Law that forbids you to carry your empty bed, from one place to another on the Sabbath? There’s no doubt that the man’s illness enslaved him physically, but it was the Jewish Scribal Law that paralyzed him.
On the one hand, the law kept him from taking up his mat and moving it from place, making it impossible on this day to find a more favorable location closer to the pool. On the other hand, it is because of his less-than-optimal positioning to the pool waters that he was uniquely positioned to engage in the life-restoring encounter with Jesus.
The power of Jesus’ words, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” at once made the man well, and he did as Jesus commanded. The combination of Jesus’ commands, which disregarded Sabbath Law, and the man’s obedience to those commands, transformed the man into a walking, talking SIGN—a sign that pointed not to the pool, but to the one through whom all things are made well.
So often in the healing narratives throughout the Gospels the afflicted person, or the person asking for healing on behalf of a loved one, came to Jesus, and Jesus told them, “Your faith has made you well.” In this narrative, there is no mention of the man’s pre-existing faith. It was Jesus who initiated the encounter by going to the man and meeting him where he was.
Just as Jesus went to the man and met him where he was, Jesus seeks each one of us out to meet us right where we are, just as we are in our daily lives, to liberate us from the human condition of suffering that can make one’s soul feel paralyzed.
Several years ago I watched a video in which a psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, she inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it; the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed—incapable of doing anything. Remember to put the glass down.”
Sisters and brothers, spiritual suffering manifests in many ways—the feelings of helplessness, jealousy and anger that bubble up when you try to make your way to the pool for healing and someone beats you to it. Like the water in the glass, the weight of holding on to those feelings for 5, 10, 38 years—can deeply wound and paralyze the spirit.
We are powerless to heal our own brokenness. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot make ourselves well. And, there is a sense of urgency for us to “get ready” for Jesus’ return when all of creation will be “stirred up” and all who believe him will be saved from death through the source of all healing.
May we, who are being made well in Christ Jesus, have the courage to stand up; take up our mats and boldly walk in newness of life.
 Inspiring Things. https://www.facebook.com/236441639865624/videos/600686980107753/?pnref=story. Retrieved April 30, 2016.