|Photos in and from my yard: Desert Aire, WA|
Winter Winding Down
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Preached on Sunday, February 19, 2017
Scripture readings: Leviticus 17:10-14; John 6:52-71
Within the space of two days, Jesus went from having a crowd of thousands of people wanting to force him to be their king (if it came down to that), to having a crowd of about twelve people, and a few more, who simply didn’t know where else to go. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
At the beginning of the two days, Jesus had fed a crowd of about five thousand men, not counting the women and children. Maybe you could multiply the five thousand by five for a better sense of that crowd.
He fed them all with the remains of a boy’s lunch basket: five barley flat-breads and two pickled fish. They tried to grab Jesus in order to make him king, and Jesus barely slipped out of their hands and went into hiding. They went on a man hunt and they found Jesus on the second day, on the other side of the Lake of Galilee.
What Jesus had failed to accomplish, by hiding from the crowd, he succeeded at by completely alienating the crowd. Jesus made himself disgusting to them. He told them to eat his body and drink his blood.
No one had ever talked like that to them before. No one would have dared talk to them like that.
We know that eating his body and drinking his blood are good, because it says so in our Bible. If it’s in there, it must be OK.
For the people who thought they wanted Jesus to be their king, eating bodies was what happened when you were under the judgement of God, and your town was besieged by the enemy, and you were reduced to eating your dead. (Leviticus 26:29; Ezekiel 5:8-10; etc.) Drinking any kind of blood carried the death penalty. (Leviticus 17:10-14) Their Bible was pretty clear on that. It was not OK. It was evil.
The crowds left Jesus in disgust. A lot of the people who seemed to be disciples also left in disgust or, at least, in complete horror and shame.
Jesus began the two days with a powerful graciousness. He made himself the gracious host of those thousands of people and, by doing so (according to the culture of their day), he bound himself to them in friendship and faithfulness. That is what sharing a meal meant. Hosting a meal meant so much more.
After Jesus hid from them, and let himself be found, he made himself a little harder to get along with. He said that it wasn’t enough for them to eat the bread he gave them. They needed to believe in him. They needed to trust him as the one who brought them into a true and life-changing relationship with his Father. They needed to trust that Jesus could give them a new kind of life which would never die. That was hard enough. That was a giant step; and Jesus was only going to make it harder.
It turns into a long story. Jesus told them that they believed because he fed them with food for their stomachs instead of believing that he could give them the substance of life in the kingdom of God. They wanted a king who could fill their stomachs and give them freedom from the Romans. Jesus wanted to be their king by being one with them and giving them life with God.
Jesus turned the process of believing into the process of eating his bread. Then he turned eating his bread into eating his flesh, and then he turned it into including that, along with drinking his blood. Line by line Jesus made it worse and worse.
The Greek language, in which John tells this story, makes it worse and worse. Jesus started changing his terminology for eating. At first, he used the standard, routine eating word for eating and, then, in verse fifty-four (6:54), he used a special word for eating that means heavy-duty eating: chomping, and munching, and smacking your lips on his body and blood. Even a lot of the disciples couldn’t take it anymore. That kind of talk made them sick, and they went away.
For the famous twelve disciples and maybe the few others who stayed, this was very disturbing. On one hand, Jesus started out making things very clear and simple. Then he got strange.
When the big crowd found him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (6:26) Remember that the word “sign” doesn’t have the word “miracle” beside it, even though the sign was a miracle. For Jesus, and for John, the signs were demonstrations of who Jesus is.
The plain truth is that God feeds us, and all our blessings come from God. The sign of the bread demonstrated the message that this is who Jesus is. Jesus is the one who feeds us. Jesus is the one from whom all our blessing come. The sign demonstrates something that Jesus said clearly, later: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) “He who has seen me has seen the father.” (John 14:9)
The crowd saw Jesus as “The Bread King”. It wasn’t any stretch of the imagination for them to extend that power from Jesus the Bread King to Jesus the Liberator from the Romans. The crowd, and many of the disciples of Jesus, wanted what Jesus could give them more than they wanted Jesus alone.
Jesus came to serve, and most people wanted him to serve by serving them bread, and freedom, and prosperity, and anything else that they didn’t have and wanted to have badly. Jesus came to serve by giving them a new life, an abundant life, an everlasting and undying life, that came from being one with him.
Jesus came to make himself one with us by being born as one of us, and by living a human life, and by dying in such a way on the cross that he carried on his own back our sins, our sickness, our weakness, our fears, and our own death. Jesus made himself one with us so that we could be one with him.
We let his death become our death because his love on the cross presents itself to us with so much power. When that happens, then his death comes into us just like the best food in the world, only different. Even the worst food in the world keeps us alive. His death, coming into us, makes us alive for the first time in our lives.
Whether it’s the best food or the worst food that this world has to offer, we take that food into our digestive system and our bodies convert that food into us. The food of Jesus is different. The body and the blood of Jesus come into us by faith and it turns us into Jesus. The food of the death of Jesus turns us into brothers and sisters of Jesus who have his life living in us, and through us.
There is power in the body of Jesus living in us and shared by us as brothers and sisters together. And there is power in the blood.
We can understand this, perhaps, from marriage. I live alone (although the truth is that I am never alone). What I mean by living alone is that whatever gets done in my life, I’m the one who has to do it. Sometimes I’ve thought that, if I were married, I would have someone to help me do everything. Because of my wife, I would even be smarter because I would have two heads instead of one. I would have someone to motivate me and encourage me.
Does that mean that I would fall in love with a woman on the basis of what she could give me? Or would I give myself to some crazy woman because she was crazy enough to simply give me herself? Marriage (at its best) is a kind of faith that comes from a miracle of self-giving.
Jesus will not accept a marriage with us on the basis of what we have to offer him. Jesus doesn’t come into us, and live in us, on the basis of what we can, or will, do for him. Jesus will not accept a marriage with us on the basis of giving us what we want, and what we think that we need, if what we want and think that we need is anything less than simply himself. We must want Jesus alone, for his own sake alone.
Jesus is crazy enough to want us alone. Jesus wants us to be crazy enough to want him alone: to want him for nothing but for himself. If that sounds harsh, knowing how harsh it sounds helps us understand the story of Jesus’ loss of popularity.
If that sounds harsh, we have to know that the time will come when each one of us will face life having Jesus alone. The time will come (and maybe there will be many times to come) when we will seem to have nothing but Jesus: Jesus alone.
That will either be enough; or it won’t be enough. Jesus promises to be enough, and he asks us to trust him on this, beginning now; or beginning when you finally come to your own crucial “now”.
The story of Jesus and his loss of popularity helps us learn a few important things.
It shows us a picture of people who think they are followers of Jesus, and believers of Jesus, who haven’t come to this crucial decision. They have followed and believed because they believe that following Jesus will provide them with what they want. For them, Jesus is still the Bread King, or the King of Blessings and Gifts.
Sometimes my own life challenges me to question myself. Have I been willing to choose Jesus alone?
The story of Jesus the Bread King versus Jesus the Bread of Life also teaches us that Jesus can be scary, and that living by faith can be scary. It’s right there in the Bible. The Gospel of John tells us that it is written to show us, truly, who Jesus is, so that we can truly know who he is, and (knowing) have life in his name. It comes down to us having him alone.
So, we learn that Jesus and his requirement of living by faith can be scary. It’s also true that the same story teaches us that Jesus is our bountiful and gracious host, who ties and binds himself to us in friendship and loyalty. We can know this, absolutely and completely, and still know that Jesus alone is our scary, great and perfect love.
It’s no use hiding this from anyone. Anyone who has ever heard anything about Jesus somehow knows that Jesus could turn out to be scary. It’s not that hard to listen to Jesus and think to yourself: “Oh, avoid getting tied down to this at any cost.”
And, again, couldn’t the prospect of getting married look like this? And yet, what, then, shall we do about any love that is truly worthy of being called love? What is left of life if you will not face your fear of love? What is left?
One other lesson to be learned is the lesson of those who were left. They loved Jesus alone. They loved what Jesus must be up to, even though they couldn’t understand it, even though Jesus seemed to be failing and blowing it all. They stuck to Jesus even when Jesus seemed determined to be unpopular, and distasteful, and scary.
One advantage they had was that they had suddenly found themselves choosing Jesus alone. They had taken the leap. They could say goodbye to popularity and numbers. They could still go on working with Jesus for the kingdom of God and, the truth is, Jesus would be faithful.
Jesus would be faithful, and die for the sin of the world, and rise from the dead. Jesus would break the power of sin, the power of the world, the power of the devil, and the power of death itself. That was the greatest gift of all. There, Jesus would give them the brand of life that no bread on earth could possibly give.
All in all, Jesus the Bread King would mean “Jesus and this, Jesus and that”. Choosing Jesus alone is something entirely different.
For Jesus alone, as he offers himself to us, the first step is the hardest step of all. The first step to Jesus the Bread and the Blood of life is the leap of faith. It’s the plunge into deep waters.
When you listen to enough old stories, you find that people used to learn how to swim by getting thrown into the water. Looking back, we will see that Jesus really did that to each one of us, and to all of us together. It’s all the same, though, whether he has thrown us in, himself, or whether we just take the jump and dive in.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Preached on Sunday, February 12, 2017
Scripture readings: Exodus 16:1-12; John 6:1-15
There’s that joke that you say when you’re getting to know someone and you say, “You can call me anything. Just don’t call me late for supper.”
|Along Crab Creek, Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA|
On this occasion, Jesus seemed determined to avoid this at any cost, only supper didn’t cost him anything. It only costs the kid who supplied Jesus with the supper to be served. Jesus was determined that the crowd, that seemed to follow him everywhere, wouldn’t be late for supper.
John, in his gospel, is going to take one of the most popular stories about Jesus and make it into one of the deepest stories of Jesus. Tradition tells us that John wrote his gospel late, because he saved the writing of it until he was old, and tradition also tells us that John lived to be almost a hundred years old.
Writing as late as he did, John seemed to know what had been written in the other gospels, and he mostly avoided repeating them, in the sense that his gospel repeats very little of the other gospels except for a scene in the Temple, the walking on water, the trial, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. He tells us about the Last Supper too, but only about what happened before and after supper.
Well, back to the feeding of the five thousand, John finds ways to tell us that it was more than a miracle. Remember that John, in his twentieth chapter, tells us that he chose to write what he wrote so that those who read him could know who Jesus is, and, knowing, have life in his name.
As for who Jesus is, John shows us that those who know him best know that, as spontaneous and surprising as he seems, Jesus is more than a miracle worker. Jesus is a miracle planner.
But John shows us more than this. He shows us that Jesus is a miracle planner because he is our care-giver and Jesus is our host. Even more than being an example of care giving, this miracle is just as much about hospitality, about being our host, as it is about anything else.
As for having life in his name, John shows us that the life we have in Jesus’ name means that Jesus gives us the grace of involvement in his planning, and in his caregiving, and in his hospitality. We see this in the questions that Jesus asked his disciples, in his concern for providing a meal for the crowd right from the start. We see Jesus involving us in the life of the grace of his hospitality in the way that he drew one young boy to share his supper with him, and with the whole crowd.
Just as he did with the Last Supper, John skips over most of the day. The other gospels (at least) tell us that, between the coming of the crowd and the feeding of the crowd, Jesus did many things and said many things.
The other gospels tell us that Jesus healed the crowd and taught the crowd. John only tells us that Jesus saw the crowd coming, and that he fed them, and (after he fed them) that he ran away from them.
John tells us that Jesus thought about feeding them as soon as that day began, as soon as he saw the crowd coming from a distance around the shore of the lake. He asked his disciple Philip, “How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” And John tells us about Jesus the miracle planner because, with the question to Philip, John tells us this about Jesus’ question: “This he said to test him (to test Philip), for he himself knew what he would do.” (John 6:6)
The other gospels tell us that feeding the crowd came late in the day. (Matthew 14:15-16; Mark 6:35-37; Luke 9:12-13) John tells us that Jesus was still thinking about it as the day went on, and that the disciple Andrew found a boy who had food leftover: five flatbreads and two pickled fish.
By the way, Galilee produced a pickled fish product that was famous all over the Greek and Roman world. It was a big cash export for Galilee. It was an expensive delicacy all over the empire; but it was common fare in every hut and cottage, in every local town and village that Jesus and his disciples knew.
It was also true that, in the world that Jesus and his disciples knew best, most people walked everywhere. This took a lot of time, but it was so much part of their lives that they knew how to do it. They were always prepared. They took the time because there was no other way, and they took food with them.
The Jews were famous for walking around with a basket at their side. It was part of their costume. They hadn’t really worried about food because they had brought something to eat with them, but now that it was late in the day and perhaps their food was gone. They probably knew that this would happen.
Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do, but his disciples, just like us, never knew what Jesus was going to do next. Jesus was taking so long to heal and teach, and now it was late in the day. The Feast of Passover was near, and so the moon was getting fuller, and the people would probably finish their day by walking home in the moonlight.
They had finished the food they brought, and they were subsistence people who were used to empty stomachs. But there was a boy close enough to Jesus, and to the disciples, that Andrew knew he had leftovers. If there had been boy scouts in those days, this boy would have lived up to their reputation of always being prepared. He came packed and ready to camp out.
Jesus had planned, right from the start, to do the unnecessary. He had planned to be the good host. He planned to give everyone a good supper for the hike home.
There was a trick involved. Jesus played his disciples and he let them think that he didn’t know what he was doing, or what he was going to do. But, the truth is, they would have wondered anyway. They should have known, long before, that Jesus knew what he was doing and that he could do anything; but they didn’t seem to know this.
This is exactly what the people of Israel were like in the Old Testament. In their escape from slavery in Egypt, the Lord had already shown them that he had a complicated plan, and that he was able to do anything to accomplish it. The Lord had already demonstrated this to them, but they couldn’t keep the faith. So, they were surprised that the Lord was able to feed their multitudes in the wilderness.
The Lord held them in suspense to make an impression on them. He did it to help them keep the faith, and to remember that he cared about them, and that he was more than able to truly provide for them.
Jesus showed his people, and us, that the same thing is true of him. We truly see the God of creation, and the God who leads his people to freedom, and the God who could provide for his people in the desert, when we see Jesus. John tells us this so that we can read what he has written and know who Jesus is, and have life in his name.
John is going to make this even deeper, because he will follow up the feeding of the five thousand, later, with a conversation in which Jesus would tell the people that he is the bread of life. Jesus would go on to tell them, and us, that he was going to do something for the whole world that would make him real food and drink for all of us.
They didn’t understand him, but we know that Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross, and his rising from the dead, are our food and drink. It is love that empowers and fills us up. It is the real way that we have life in his name. It is also the great work that we are called to share, and to offer to the whole world in his name.
Jesus is the great host. Just as feeding the crowd was not expected, and no one would have considered it necessary, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are like that. Jesus did it out of love, and not because was necessary: not because it was necessary for him.
Of course, it is necessary for us: absolutely necessary. There is nothing that we need more than for Jesus to be our host and feed us and quench our thirst with himself.
The unnecessary feast was only needed for the crowd to get some idea, if possible, of who Jesus was, and is. We can’t truly know who Jesus is, unless we eat and drink him as he gave himself to us on the cross and in the resurrection. Then we know who he is: that he is the perfect host and care-giver who planned, from the beginning, to give us life. Then we can have life in his name.
The life we have in his name means something even more than this. If our Lord is the perfect host who gives himself for the life of the world, then life, in his name, means our learning to follow him. Life means learning to be what he is for the world and (again) we can only be what he is when he is our very subsistence; when he is our food and drink. We can only live for him if we eat and drink Jesus.
So, our calling is hospitality. There are many important things we do together. We worship. We pray. We sing. We eat together. We share our joys and concerns in prayer; and we pray for the whole world. We form a family and a friendship together. We support missionaries in their work around the country, and around the world. We learn to share our faith with others; meaning that we learn to share the good news of Jesus: who Jesus is, and what he has done, and why it matters. These are all important things.
The meal by the sea was an expression of hospitality. Hospitality bound the host and the guests together in friendship. They would belong to each other as a result. Jesus was pledging his loyalty and the loyalty of his disciples, and the loyalty of the boy with the food, to the crowd. Hospitality in the ancient Middle East did this.
All the important things we do together are not what Jesus intends, unless we can be hosts for Jesus. As a single guy who doesn’t clean his house, I am a terrible example of this. But, even so, I almost always ask whoever is at the door whether they want to come in: unless it’s the UPS guy or someone like that.
Jesus fed the crowd in order to give his disciples a mission of hospitality, and we have the same mission. It isn’t only about potlucks, or about eating together. Hospitality is doing for others an unexpected and unnecessary thing that promises our loyalty, and our commitment, and our belonging to them.
How can we show the world around us that we belong to them? I don’t know the answer to this, but I believe that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, can give us a special calling in this direction.
For the disciples, and for the boy with the food, feeding the crowd was impossible. They only had a very little bit to give, but that little bit was something worth giving, because Jesus was more than able to bless what they shared.
We want Jesus to bless something that we can share. Jesus wants to bless something that we have in our power to share, even though it looks impossible to us.
Sometimes we are like those disciples who were stuck at the point where Jesus let them wonder about everything. Jesus let them wonder whether they were able to believe that he knew what he was doing. He let them wonder if he had a plan, and whether he was able to do it. Sometimes we are wondering just like them.
So, he gave them signs. John calls them signs. We would like to think that John’s word “signs” means miracles, and that Jesus is simply the miracle worker, but signs mean something more than miracles. The signs of Jesus were designed, like John says, to help us know who he is and to live accordingly, in his name.
We are called to trust and to pray for the miracle of being Jesus in this world. The feeding of the crowd tells us not only to feed the hungry, but to be his hosts to the world.
We are called to Jesus’ mission of hospitality. Then the world can meet him, and know him, through us, and through the signs of our lives. Then the people around us can find life in his name.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Preached on Sunday, February 5, 2017
Scripture readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; John 5:1-18
Whenever I read this story about the man healed by Jesus, at the pool of Bethesda, I don’t know what to think. I can’t help asking, “What, on earth, is wrong with this guy?”
|Along Lower Crab Creek, Desert Aire/Mattawa WA|
Of course, there was something physically wrong with him for a long time. John, the author of the gospel, doesn’t tell us exactly what that was. In Greek, John tells us that he was “dried up” and that would suggest that he was withered or atrophied, but we don’t know why. He seems to imply that he was barely mobile, and perhaps couldn’t walk at all.
We don’t know what caused this. The thirty-eight years of his disability probably meant that he had been an invalid for most, if not all, of his life.
Some people think that he had only himself to blame for this. They think that he had done something wrong and that this had happened to him as a result.
Here’s the reason why they think this. It’s because, later, in the Temple, when Jesus found him for a second time, Jesus said a strange thing. Jesus gave him a warning. Jesus said, “See! You are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (5:14)
Some people think that Jesus was saying that the man’s long suffering was also because of sin, but Jesus may not have meant that at all. Jesus was saying that the man was currently sinning, perhaps even as Jesus was there speaking to him.
Maybe it wasn’t an old danger, but a present one. The sin that Jesus warned him against may have been whispering in his ear ever since his healing.
There was something going on with him. There was something wrong with him. I believe Jesus was saying that there are worse things in life than to be an invalid, or even to be paralyzed, for thirty-eight years.
Jesus was able to see what was going on in people’s hearts. (John 2:25) He knew what was going on inside of them, just as he still does with each one of us. Jesus warned the healed man because of something in the man’s present, not only in his past.
Yet, maybe there was something wrong with the man that had been going on for a long time: not in the past before his illness but maybe there was something wrong in his heart during that long, long time of suffering.
The clue to this may be in Jesus’ very first words to the man: “Do you want to get well?” We may see what was wrong in the man’s own answer, when that man didn’t answer Jesus with a “yes”. He didn’t say that he wanted to get well.
There are a couple of things we need to know about the world of the man at Bethesda Pool. One fact is that he had to be a beggar who made a living from his suffering. Passers-by would give him money in order to participate in the mercy of God, and to be partners of compassion with God. He probably did very well with this, because he showed a talent for tugging at the heart-strings of those who came to him.
He tried to do this with Jesus, not so much to get well as to make a decent living. And, next to the Jewish Temple, which was practically right next door, he had one of the best locations for the begging business in the world. The Jewish Temple may have been the number one best location, but the pools of Bethesda had to come in second.
It was a spiritual landmark. Bethesda was a phenomenon. Something would happen with the water. The water in the twin pools would suddenly move in a strange way and the first person in would be healed. Some people said that an angel moved the water and gave it miraculous power. When the Romans destroyed the Jewish city of Jerusalem and the Temple, in 70 AD, and then rebuilt it as a pagan city about fifty years later, they restored the pools and they built a temple beside them dedicated to the pagan god Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Asclepius was the same god who had the winged staff with the snakes that you see as a symbol for doctors and medicine today. Even in the days of Jesus, the pools of Bethesda were a holy tourist trap.
If Jesus healed the man, the man would lose his means of making a living and he would have no skills for supporting himself. He would have to start from scratch at the age of at least thirty-eight.
What would he do? Would anyone with such a history dare to truly desire to get well? If you wondered what might be wrong with the man, and the reason why he didn’t say that he wanted to get well; it might have its roots in that. Even after he was healed, his healing may not have been what he wanted most in life.
His answer to Jesus’ direct question was to avoid giving a direct answer. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (5:7)
For one thing, there had to be someone who was available to carry him to his reserved spot at the pools (probably a relative or a family member) and to take him home at the end of the day. That’s how this all worked.
But there was something that sounded like a plea for pity in his voice. He had spent many, many years seeing other people healed, and knowing himself to be passed by. He may have started out wanting to be healed. And yet he found himself being used by his own family. We can only imagine.
As I read the story, I wonder if there was something more there than self-pity. I wonder if there was something much worse going on that could lead to something worse happening to him.
I wonder if his answer to Jesus was the sound-track of his life. I wonder if those words, and more words like them, were constantly running in the background, in his head, all the time, and even when he slept. If that were so, those thoughts would have become something like a poison; something deadly, like anger and judgment, always accusing others, and the world, and himself.
Sometimes I think I have a subtext in my life; of hurt, anger and judgement. My temptation, my sin, is to play that subtext over and over, and I rob myself of life by doing that. Jesus gives me life, every day, abundant and free, and I let the opposite of Jesus drip, and drip, and drip into it. It’s something like the voice of that man by the pool.
I pray about this. I pray to the King Jesus who is so much the king that he refuses to limit himself and what he has to give. Jesus doesn’t hold himself back from people like me. He gladly gives us life. He dies to do this and, even though there is this vein of sin that kills him on the cross, Jesus is the king who is so much stronger than what I have in myself that he can rise from the dead and keep on giving and not be defeated. I need the life from Jesus that is stronger than my sin. I need the life from Jesus that will not let itself be defeated. In this strange healing, we have read the story of this determined King Jesus.
Simply having read the story we have been told something that I haven’t said anything about yet. That is, the man who was healed had no idea who Jesus was. The man who was healed didn’t know that he was in the presence of a healer when Jesus said, “Pick up your mat and walk.” He couldn’t have had faith in Jesus, because he didn’t know who Jesus was. Even when he knew, he didn’t understand.
There is one other person like this man in the Gospel of John. In the ninth chapter, John tells us about the time when Jesus healed the man who was born blind. (John 9) The blind man didn’t know who Jesus was, either.
All the blind man knew was that someone put mud on his eyes and told him where to go in order to wash it off and, when he washed the mud off his eyes, he was healed. Jesus also went looking for him, and told him who he was, and the formerly blind man bowed and worshiped Jesus. (John 9:38)
When the lame man who was healed at the pool was found by Jesus, Jesus warned him that he was in terrible danger from a sin that lurked in him. He responded by going away from Jesus and reporting him to the authorities.
John tells us, in the twentieth chapter of his gospel, about his purpose in writing it. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Christ means king in the sense of a very different kind of king than one who is a head of state. The Christ is the king of the kingdom of God. Jesus rules a kingdom that he creates by dying for the sin of the world, so that those who believe in him become truly alive in a way that no one who belongs, heart and soul, to this world is alive.
The Prophet Isaiah, pictures the kingdom of God as a place where all harms are healed. All barrenness is replaced by fruitfulness. “The eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”(Isaiah 35:5-6)
It’s a new world. The Bible calls it a new heaven and earth. This world, with its rebellion, and darkness, and selfishness, and violence, and injustice, and hatred, and victimization (and all of that) is a world that God plans to replace. And God wants to make us into people who belong, heart and soul, to that new world, beginning as soon as we begin to know him, and trust him, and follow him. Jesus is the king of this new life, and Jesus, dying on the cross and rising from the dead, is the way to this new life.
The man born blind was healed when a king he didn’t know came to him in the darkness and gave him sight and light. He got in trouble because of Jesus healing him but, being found by Jesus, and learning who Jesus is, gave him joy and life.
The man who was an invalid for almost forty years was given strength and motion when a king he didn’t know came to his place of begging and ordered him to his feet. His life changed forever.
Like the blind man, he also got in trouble because of Jesus healing him. He was judged and sort of put on probation (probably) and, being found by Jesus, and knowing Jesus as his healer and the giver of a new life, and being warned by Jesus of the dangers of not entering into that life, he chose to go to the judges who condemned him so that he could get off the hook.
He sided with the judgers and the condemners of healing, instead of siding with the giver of healing and life. He sided with judging, instead of siding with compassion. He went to the rule keepers, instead of following the grace giver. He went away from Jesus, instead of worshiping him, or following him. He knew Jesus as his healer, but not as his Lord and Savior.
Jesus gave to both men a grace so perfect and complete that they didn’t have to know anything at all. They didn’t even know enough to have the thing we call faith. It was enough for the king to be faithful to them, and to keep faith with them, even when they couldn’t meet whatever requirements you would think to be necessary for entering God’s kingdom.
The man at the pool is a warning to us. There is a temptation that exists for those who receive wonderful gifts from Jesus.
The temptation is to not enter into the spirit of the gift; to not enter into that grace. The temptation is to choose the old world left behind. The temptation is to go back to the old life, and the old ways, and the old rules. The invalid chose to live a life where he could win points and enjoy a status that he could get by joining the angry, and by joining the judgers.
But I don’t want to judge him. I only want to be warned by him. I see that Jesus is willing to bless anyone, absolutely anyone, whatever that person may deserve. Jesus even loves those who will never love him back.
I want to love Jesus back. I want to be thankful for his grace. I want to be thankful for a life I cannot earn or deserve. Jesus has died for me, and for the whole world, in order to give to us all a love that is infinitely strong. As the king of that life, Jesus may warn me but never condemn me.
This world is ruled by judgers and condemners who do enormous evil. Anger and hatred are symptoms of this judging and condemning world, which is opposed to the kingdom of God as we see it in Jesus.
The world, as we know it, is a scary place and, even though we know the love and grace of Jesus, we are tempted to revert. We are tempted to go back into that angry, and judging, and condemning world; and we are tempted to live by its rules, even though the power of Jesus offers to set us free and give us that new life.
Jesus is God as the seeker of the lost, the wholeness giver, the healer. Jesus is God as the judge who turns judging upside down, and turns the judgers into the judged. Jesus is God blowing our minds by giving grace to the undeserving, and calling us to blow other people’s minds because we do the very same thing. This is what it means to have life in his name, and to share it with the whole world.