Radical Grace


John 5:1-9    

6th Sunday of Easter

“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asked.  I am captivated by this question every time that I read it.  “Do you want to be made well?” These were Jesus’ first words to the sick man lying in the vicinity of the pool.  He had been ill longer than most people were alive.  He was slow to move, and when Jesus spotted him, he was lying down.  Could he even get up?

We with bodies that are fully functional can only imagine the impact of his disability.  Control of bodily functions may be compromised. Personal hygiene is difficult, which leads to other issues such as social isolation. There is no family present in our story, and our unnamed man lamented that he had no friends.   He was highly dependent on others for help.  Holding a job was impossible, so he was also dependent upon the generosity of strangers. The unnamed man was an invalid. In his society, he was viewed as in-valid.

How different are we in our society?  It was not until 1990 that the American with Disabilities Act came into existence.[1]  It’s a civil rights law to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities. While new building codes ensure compliance, older buildings are not always accessible. A person with inadequate vision and slowness of step told me about trying to get outside during a fire drill.  Obtaining adequate medical care presents other challenges, especially if employment pays minimum wage or is non-existent. For those with disabilities, everyday life can be a battle.

The in-valid man found lying down had given up hope that someone would help him to the pool when the water was stirred up.  The pool was known as a place of healing that was supposed to come from Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. The man waited there, and waited, hoping that this god would save him.  Yet he remained as broken as he was the day before, and the years before, and the decades. Soon he was no longer Frank, or Joe or Bob.  He was that nameless and helpless man lying by the pool.  His sickness became his identity.

Then one day, a Sabbath day, Jesus showed up at the pool, where the blind, lame and paralyzed,–the unnamed in-valids were hanging out.  “Do you want to be healed?” he asked.  “Of course, I do!” the man shouted.  “I’ve been waiting most of my life for this moment!”  I am just kidding!  What the sick man really said to this stranger is, “I have no one to put me into the pool, and when I start to make my own way, people jump in front of me.” We don’t know if these were excuses, or complaints, but it was this man’s reality.  He thought he needed the stirred-up water to heal him.  That’s where he placed his faith.

Sensing this man’s resignation to his situation, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?”   The obvious answer should be yes. Healing would bring change. Relationships, responsibilities, expectations—all would impacted. What is it in your life that you would like to be healed?  What are the changes that would come along with that? Who else would that affect?  In a family system, when one person becomes more emotionally healthy, it is difficult for the rest of the family to adjust. “Do you want to be made well?” That is Jesus’ question to all of us.  The sick man never said yes.  Jesus healed him anyway.  “’Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” God’s kingdom broke in.  It was a miracle.  It was resurrection.

Out of all the ill people in the porticos, why did Jesus choose this person?  Isn’t that among the top 10 questions we desperately want Jesus to answer? Our gospel writer John never explains.  In fact, Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t tell us why or how people are healed, either.  In this case, it was not the man’s faith.  It can’t be that he prayed the right words, or prayed long enough. He did not pray. He did not ask Jesus to help him. Jesus did not take this man into the pool, but instead cured him on his terms.  If you read the rest of the story, after the unnamed person was healed, he never expressed his gratitude.  In fact, when the religious authorities admonished him for carrying his mat on the sabbath, he blamed the man who told him take it up.  He did not even know Jesus’ name.

What we learn is that it’s not the quality or quantity of our faith that makes miracles happen. If only there was a formula, or some magic words, or maybe lucky socks.  If only we could use Magic Eraser to wipe out our illness, or how about even erasing our mistakes.  Then we would be in control.  We would be the ones who made things happen.  Maybe it’s a miracle when we realize that God is God and we are not.

There was nothing that the man lying by pool did to deserve his healing.  Jesus doesn’t bring us to wholeness because we deserve it.  We don’t get what we deserve, thank God.  Jesus doesn’t heal us because of what we do, or who we are. Jesus brings healing because of who he is.  God’s grace reaches all the way down into our dark places.

Not all healing comes in the form legs that run and ears that hear.  God’s ultimate healing is death. When our tears flow because our hands can no longer hold our loved ones, God’s grace is most abundant.  The one we love is still in God’s hands.

Jesus comes that we may have life, and have it abundantly.  Although he shows up in the church, he also walks to the pool where those who are blind, and lame, lonely and hopeless sit and wait for someone to help them.  He comes without our asking offering forgiveness and unconditional love. Sometimes, we even  recognize God’s miracles.

~ Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1]https://adata.org/learn-about-ada. Accessed May 22, 2019.

About Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.