May 5th, 2013
The Rev. Rob Fisher
St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
Texts: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 5:1-9
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The temple in Jerusalem was like one of the seven wonders of the world, and it stood during Jesus’ time.
It was constructed of giant stones, some taller than this building. It was destroyed in 70 AD and is now the site of the Dome of the Rock. But until then, it was the place where observant Jewish people came to make their sacrifices. The priests, who were the keepers of ritual and holiness, stayed busy mediating God to the people. God, of course, dwelled in the secluded inner room, behind the curtain, in the place called the “holy of holies.” This place was off limits to all but to a very few.
Nearby the temple there was a reservoir with two very large pools holding massive amounts of water. This water supplied needs of the temple activities. Archeologists have unveiled the ruins of this place. They found it near a place known, because of a reference in the book of Nehemiah, as “the Sheep Gate,” within the walls of the Old City.
There were five porticoes. These were like outdoor covered hallways with pillars, and the Gospel of John tells us that during Jesus’ time there was a great scene of invalids gathered gathered there. The King James Version of the Bible describes it with colorful words: “In these [five porches] lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.” They waited for the waters to stir, because it was believed that there was healing in the water. They wanted to touch it when it spilled over.
Imagine the juxtaposition this presents.
Here were the least clean, the least whole, the most miserable people, languishing right beside the site of the utmost purity and holiness.
On that day when Jesus came to the pools at Beth-zatha (also known as Bethesda) he could have gone to the holiest of people in the holiest of places, but instead he chose the lowliest.
And among these invalids, he comes up to one who has been suffering in this condition for 38 years. This man is the lowest of the low.
This man had no one willing to help him get to the water when it was available. Worse yet, he was used to the fact that others would block his way as they went in front of him to the water. The rejected were rejecting one another.
In the translation we just heard, Jesus says to the man “Do you want to be healed?”
But in the King James Version, the words of Jesus are, “Wilt thou be made whole?”
Think about it—this man had lived this way for 38 years.
Could he at this point even imagine what wholeness would be like?
When Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well, he does not say yes at first, but describes all that is in his way. Is he still capable of wanting another life?
The great Scottish preacher and writer of the early 20th century, Arthur John Gossip, comments on this passage in the New Interpreter’s Bible, pointing out that we who have lived a certain way all our lives may think we want to be healed and cured and changed, and made like Christ.
But while “Christlikeness at a little distance does attract us, on a nearer view of it we are not so sure. [It] would make a sorry upset of our little comforts … so we drop what Christ has just put into our hands, and turn back to continue as we are.”
He goes on to say:
We can clearly see that Christlikeness is the gallant mode of living. But to secure it we have to pay down so much we value. Selfishness is, no doubt, a disease; yet it does bring us a bigger share of things than we could get without it. And temper is a childish ailment; but it pays…. Do we want to be made whole? In theory of course, yes. But in reality and at the pinch, when we might gain it, we decide that the accustomed way of things will do. This is no idle or unnecessary question that Christ puts to us; but central, all-important, radical. And everything depends on our answer.
The man there could be us.
The healing that Jesus provides to this broken man is him like drawing a direct line to God. The temple is like a great big middle-man that comes between God and God’s people, but Jesus reveals a short-cut.
When the man receives the healing, Jesus’ words point to this direct line—he says, “your faith has made you well.”
Our faith puts us in direct contact.
And though we have all heard the word “faith” used like a noun, it really makes a much better verb.
Faith is always an action, a choice, and it can simply be a word: “Yes.”
Against the odds, we can choose to say, “Yes.”
Do not be mistaken. This choice may or may not make us healthier or more comfortable (as it does for the man in the story). In reality, it may lead us into more challenging terrain than if we took the easy and expected way. But in this midst of it all, our “Yes” will bring us the wholeness that transforms all else.
Saying “Yes” when the question is put to us is a radical act—whether it is to make the seemingly impossible choice to give or receive forgiveness; or to dedicate some of our best energy, time or money to God’s work; or to reach out to a friend or even a stranger who is hurting; or simply to pause amidst our busyness and take a moment to pray.
All of these choices are radical acts.
All of these choices fill in the true picture of holiness.
We are the man lying by the pool, and wholeness is being offered to us today. It is ours to receive.