I have been stopped for several days now, in Jerusalem, trying to get to the temple. There’s a conversation unfolding there (in John 5) that has grabbed my attention. However, God has not allowed me to get close just yet. He has had another work in mind for my heart. In life and study with God, I find that I sometimes think the direction I am going is so clear, the destination so obvious, that I plow forward of my own accord, disregarding some precious ground of opportunity along the way. Sometimes I cause God to have work very hard to unlock MY focus and reestablish HIS. Does that ever happen to you?
It is the Sabbath day of a feast, which like any holiday, brings throngs of extra people to town. There is a multitude of humanity pressed in by a certain pool of water. The crowd is at a standstill. It is the bottom layer that I see. It pulses with need, pressed in, straining to get closer. That is where I find the expectant and hopeful faces, etched by years of agony. Bobbing above this layer are the occasional faces of mothers, fathers, and brothers, lined with the burden of caregiving. Sprinkled into the crowd are the rubber-neckers, the “hey-while-we’re-in-town-let’s-go-visit-that-pool-and-watch-what-happens” kind of folk. It’s hot, and smelly, and claustrophobic. The air is riddled with sighs of despair, groans of pain, murmured petitions for help. Squinty eyes, hands shading foreheads from sun. “Is the water moving yet” the constant question. “Is there hope for relief?”
In the middle of this all is where I find Jesus.
Don’t I always? Don’t I always find Him in the middle of the muck?
Here’s the interesting thing to ponder…
Jesus had no obvious reason to be there. He was not ailing. He was not taking care of a family member or friend that could not move of his own accord. There was feasting to attend—a scheduled set of events and obligations.
But we do find Jesus there. On purpose.
Jesus looked upon that crowd pulsing with disease and want. He saw the helpless individuals trapped in bodies that had failed them, at the mercy of their fellow man’s grace, and totally without subsidized health care.
Why he chose who he chose, I’ll never know, but he began a conversation with one individual, a man who had been ill a lifetime—38 years worth. Jesus knew him. He knew he had been lying there a very long time. Hopeful, but helpless.
He begins a conversation with a question: “Do you want to be healed?”
That man has been lying there for who knows how long. Others are cutting in front of him, time after time. The crowd is big, and needy, and unhealthy. The possibility of a sarcastic retort is bubbling up in my mind, including a rolling of his eyes. “No, thank you. I am just here for the view, taking a little break from the feast!”
But no, this man responds to Jesus with respect, and answers the question by summarizing his situation: “Sir…I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” There is no demanding, no rant of complaint, no begging, just a respectful commentary of need.
His response to this man, the one He’s singled out of the crowd, is “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” At once, the man is healed, takes up his pallet and walks. Jesus slips away.
The next day, the location changes. Jesus is where He is expected– in the temple. The man that was healed is also there. Jesus finds him and finishes their conversation: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may befall you.” Then the man leaves and tells his story.
I have a lot to learn here. There are things I MUST let God make me better at:
*Go where the people are. Those who are spiritual invalids—blind, paralyzed, lame—seek them out. Sometimes they are far outside the safe circles of church fellowship, sometimes they are right in the pew next to me (scooted over at a safe distance). There are hearts that don’t see the hope in God’s truth, or are paralyzed by fear, apathy, or sin. Others are limping along and just need the strong shoulders of encouragement and service to rise up and walk. Be that.
*Become a question-asker. Find out whose heart is open to the work of Jesus by asking. We don’t know if we don’t ask. I have a brother in Christ who makes a point of asking total strangers (usually fellow passengers on an airplane) what their goals in life are, and what they are doing to achieve them. He pries open the reluctant doors of their hearts with unexpected questions that create opportunity. That’s a little scary for me, but I’ll bet I can start with asking my brothers and sisters in Christ, and my friends and family. If I practice with them, I’ll be better at starting conversations with those I don’t know that need to have that conversation.
*Take a look at the way Jesus finishes the conversation with the man whose life He touched. “See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” Listen to His words. What are they really saying? Affirm what I have done! Reflect and affirm! Underline and boldface it for yourself. AND….Sin no more. Go forward. Jesus asks us, every day, what do we want? “I know it already, but you tell me in your own words. Do you want to be healed?”
Then, “Rise. Walk.” By His direction, under His orders: Rise. Walk. Whatever you do, whatever ails you, or whatever you want, get moving! Then, affirm what I have done for you. Remember Whose you are and by Whose power you move, then go forward as I have directed you!
*God is big on remembrance. He wove a structure into the lives of His people from the earliest times, because He knows that one fault of His imperfect beloved is their habit of forgetting. When time and activity stretch the distance between our salvation and today, the freshness of His grace, and its impact can become dull. IT is not dull, our perception of it is. So, like the man at the temple, walking on healthy legs in temple worship for the first time in 38 years, listen to the words of Jesus: “See, you are well!” Remember the Before, to appreciate the After. This encounter with Him will always be your touchstone.
*After Jesus celebrates with the man in greeting, and cautions Him about how to move forward, the man goes away and tells his story. Not anyone else’s story, but his story. I can do that. I can tell others the effect Jesus has on my life. I don’t have to impress them with doctrine, I don’t have to recall book, chapter and verse, I can just tell my story. Everyone has a story.
Whew! Now that I have spent time at this pool of healing, I am ready for the walk to the temple. I can hear the murmur of Jesus’ words, and He’s saying something powerful. See you there…
And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13 Revised Standard Version (RSV)