Monday, 4 April 2011

Damned if you do

GospelJohn 5:1-3,5-16

There was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a building, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralysed – waiting for the water to move; One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in this condition for a long time, he said, ‘Do you want to be well again?’ ‘Sir,’ replied the sick man ‘I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.’ Jesus said, ‘Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.’ The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and walked away.
  Now that day happened to be the sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping-mat.’ He replied, ‘But the man who cured me told me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’ They asked, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Pick up your mat and walk”?’ The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled the place. After a while Jesus met him in the Temple and said, ‘Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him. It was because he did things like this on the sabbath that the Jews began to persecute Jesus.

I told my students recently that Jesus was not a very nice man, in fact he was a bit of a troublemaker. They were up in arms. 'But he must be;' they said 'everyone knows he is the holiest person that ever was!  Maybe being holy is not the same as being nice?' I suggested. Well, that was a bit hard for them to get their head around. 

I do wonder what disservice we do our children, and ourselves, when we focus on 'niceness' as a positive attribute; after all, English Language teachers won't even allow the word to be used in essays. Nice is for biscuits not for people - people have a duty to be more than nice. Of course, you don't get killed for being 'nice'.

Depending on whose side you are on -  actually 'no' - it doesn't matter whose side you are on - Jesus is being seriously provocative here. This wandering preacher goes to the Temple, during the Festival, on a Sabbath day - finds a man stricken with 38 years of sin-infested illness - so unclean that no-one, in all this time, has even tried to help him reach the healing waters - and without a ritual, a sacrifice or a gesture heals him.

Richard Rhor often makes the comment that Jesus only ever seems to work on the Sabbath - Jesus might say that others don't seem to work at any time. Where were the priests the rest of the weeks, months and years of this man's illness? The Sabbath cannot be used as an excuse to let people suffer.

The healing means nothing to them; they overlook the miracle for the sake of the rulebook - you don't carry your sleeping mat on the Sabbath! This is the first day in 38 years this man has carried anything! Does that mean nothing? Seemingly so.

Jesus makes a temporary getaway - to give the Temple priests a chance to reflect; to do the right thing? To allow the man his moment of witness?  He then returns to speak to the man; knowing that that he had believed himself a sinner whilst physically disabled - not realising that actual sin from this day forward will harm his spirit in a far more serious way than any physical incapacity.

Now having the capacity; now that he has been proved clean; the man needs to watch that he does not become the judge and jury of others. Truthfully, he names his healer; Jesus accepts his responsibility; resigns himself to the Temple's displeasure.

It is a challenge to be a witness; to stand against preconceptions and stereotypes.

Easier to be a church-ian rather than a Christian; easier to hide our faith in places where we are accepted and understood; where we are one of a crowd - but who gains?   Are we on the path of discipleship; carrying our sleeping mat because the time has now come to stand up and be counted, even persecuted? Or would we rather be thought 'nice'?



Jade said...

This post really hit me hard... All my life I've been the 'nice' one, and just recently I'm realizing the difference between being nice and being kind. May we be truly kind, following in Jesus' footsteps... Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Jesus was truly a disturbing influence in his church because he spoke out against the things he considered to be wrong.We need more disturbing influences in our churches today to make them more open to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit

Word in the Hand said...

I agree with both of you - having been nice and now disturbing :)
Thank you for reading and commenting - blessing

Anonymous said...

Great post Word. I love saying things that 'shock' the kids, really gets them thinking. I think that the only people that Jesus was really nice to were the women. Andie