John 5_1-9 Change of focus.
The win seemed so easy. Go to the pub, just put in a few dollars and jackpot! No more worries about money, you’re a winner! It is just a matter of playing at the right machine at the right time… when it hits the jackpot. Sadly however, the jackpot is hit very rarely hit. You never know just when it will happen. The slight chance that you will be playing the machine when it jackpots causes despair and anxiety, because you can’t afford to leave the machine; the next dollar you put in might bring the jackpot. Despair and anxiety drive a false hope. You have to win now, as its cost everything, there is nothing to lose, money, home, family and even quality of life itself are gone, and so they play on in desperate hope.
Being on ‘that’ machine, playing for ‘that jackpot’ becomes the sole purpose and focus in life. Nothing else matters, nothing could be more important than being on the machine; being there when it jackpots. The machine has become a false god, as Luther explains a god, ‘A god is whatever a person looks for all good things and runs to for help in trouble.’ There are halls full of people gathered around machines, despair driving a false hope. It worked once, surely it will work again.
There is a man, a crippled man ,waiting by a poor of water called Bethesda, Jesus sees him. In fact he sees a great number of paralysed, blind, lame and sick people, all gathered around a pool of water; a pool of water that supposedly has healing powers when it is stirred. It may have worked once, perhaps someone was healed when the water stirred and this one ‘jackpot’ drives those in despair to false hope that this same jackpot will happen to them; they too will be healed. The catch is they need to be present when the water stirs and they need to be the first into the water. And so they wait, driven by anxiety and a false hope…perhaps it will be their turn next. The water had become their sole purpose and focus in life. The supposed healing properties of the water had become their false god; the giver of all things good.
So many sick and desperate people gathered around this ‘water god’, that colonnades were built over the pools to protect the sick and lame from the elements of the weather. Jesus, walking under the colonnades, asks the cripple “do you want to be healed?” An obvious and somewhat silly question. Of course he wants to be healed! Yet, does he answer “yes I do”? No, his focus is still on the water. He has invested so much time and effort on his attempts to be cured, he can’t afford to look away or consider what Jesus might be offering, the water may stir, and so answers “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.”
Jesus’ question was not silly at all. Knowing this man was still waiting to be healed after 38 years, Jesus had identified the stirring water to be this man’s false god. The question, “do you want to be healed.” deliberately changes the focus off the water, off the false god, and onto him, the true God, Son of the Father, as God said at his baptism “This is my Son, whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” The paralysed man’s answer, the “yes but…” only confirmed his false god. Yes, I want to be healed but I need to get into the water’; he did not recognise that Jesus was not offering help, he was offering a healing.
Perhaps you have something similar in your life? A worry of some sort, in which you have invested so much time and effort to cure, that it has become your sole purpose and focus? Something so important to you, like having enough money, earning a good reputation, or even wanting to be healed of some sickness or addiction that the means to the cure has now become your sole focus. Perhaps your ‘cure’, has become like the paralysed man’s water, occupying all you thoughts, hopes and plans? Even to the exclusion of everything else? If so, perhaps you also are relying on a false god.
When we hear Jesus words “do you want to be healed”, perhaps we also answer “yes but…”: Yes but…I just need to work first to earn the necessary money: Yes but…I just need to improve by behaviour: Yes but…I just need to have more faith first: yes but… tells us we have a false god. We, like the paralysed man are so focused on what we have to do to cure ourselves that we fail to recognise that that Jesus never offers help, he offering total healing.
Before another ‘yes but’ came from the paralysed man’s mouth, Jesus destroys the false god with a simple command ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. Did the man have to enter the water to be healed, as he thought? No! Did he have to first have faith? No! In fact this man didn’t even know Jesus name, as verse 13 reveals ‘The man who was healed had no idea who it was.’ Did he have to stop sinning before Jesus healed him? No, Verse 14 dismisses that when Jesus says to the healed man, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’
Jesus’ word has the power and authority to heal, to forgive, to bring back to life with no help from us, destroying our false gods and false hopes; freeing us from the bondage and despair of having to try and heal ourselves by our own efforts, as he indicates in Matthew 9 ‘Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
St Paul says in Romans 5 ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ While we were still placing hope in false gods, Jesus healed us. In our baptism, God brought the healing waters to us, he brought righteousness, forgiveness, and eternal life to us, while we are still dead in sin and did not even know Jesus. This is the good news of Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension. By his blood he has already healed us and has given us life. This grace comes to us anew each day and simply speaks a non-threatening word of healing. He says to you, even though you may say ‘yes but…’ “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” Walk in the forgiveness I offer. And as sure as the paralysed man got up and walked, you also walk in newness of life.
As healed and restored people, with our false gods destroyed, and with the words of Jesus on our lips, we have the healing of Jesus to offer to others. So many people’s lives are being wasted, desperately relying on false hopes; desperately trying everything to heal their hurts and cover their guilt from sin. Many of these people used to know and believe in Jesus as the only one who can heal. But slowly, the ‘means to be healed’ have became more important, and now they too have joined the multitudes ‘hanging around the pool false healing’, desperately hoping to enter into its healing waters, not knowing for sure if they are really going to be healed.
Let’s not wait around for them to be disappointed, to fall into total despair because they never get to the healing they so desire. Let’s make plans like Jesus did, to visit where they hang out; to speak a healing word from Jesus. Let’s make an effort to reconnect them to Jesus, the true source of healing. I am praying that we may find a way of bringing healing and reconnection to the multitudes who gather at the Dubbo North School every weekday. ‘Reconnect’ is a great word and would make a great mission enabling statement; to reconnect people to God, to healing and to life. Our church is perfectly sized and positioned to make today’s gospel a reality in the lives of those who frequent the school.
Let’s not wait around for them to be disappointed, to fall into total despair because they never get to the healing they so desire. Let’s make plans like Jesus did, to visit where they hang out; to speak a healing word from Jesus. Let’s make an effort to reconnect them to Jesus, the true source of healing. I am praying that we may find a way of bringing healing and reconnection to the multitudes that travel the highway each day. Our church is perfectly sized and positioned to make today’s gospel a reality in the lives of those who frequent the road out front.
Let’s pray that God would make a gate for us to open, like the sheep gate, that leads us into the midst of desperate people, people who don’t even know they need Jesus! Now that’s a radical prayer. But then again, God works in radical ways, after all, despite our inaction, our false god’s, our continual sin, he still loves and forgives and still heals us saying ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk’.