Meet the Man at the Pool

John 5:1-9

1-6 Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”

The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

8-9 Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.

9-10 That day happened to be the Sabbath. The Jews stopped the healed man and said, “It’s the Sabbath. You can’t carry your bedroll around. It’s against the rules.”

There were hundreds of us, surviving in our own personal man-made hell. We were the blind and the lame; simply dropped off by our families here to exist, to somehow make it on our own. We were a desperate lot, but there was a strange camaraderie, we all understood that our condition was hopeless. We were just marking time–and my 38 years was a lifetime for some. It’s a very long time to be sick.

None of us were whole, not by a long shot, otherwise, why were we sitting here waiting to die?

It’s said by some that an angel would venture down from heaven, and stir the pool–and the first to get in the water would be healed. It was one of those strange things that kept us from going crazy–a mental mechanism that bruised hearts often carry deep inside. It was a necessary way to keep from being lost.

I lived with my friends on these hard stone steps all these years, I’ve seen some live, and many more die. Banding together we became a community of survivors. We understood each other, and we knew everyone’s story–what else was there to do but talk?

It’s funny how some ideas get started–a silly dream, or a fairy tale of leaving this pool and becoming normal again. We developed the knack of a gallows kind of humor, a bond that condemned men shared with each other. We bantered these in order to cope with this slow-motion death. These were inside jokes, mixed with hefty dollops of half-believed hope and odd humor that only dying men learn to appeciate.

But maybe it kept us alive for just one more day. Perhaps it helped us to survive this hell.

That day started like 13,879 days before, and there was nothing unusual about it. There was nothing but the growing heat, the flies, and the sour smell of unwashed bodies. But in an instant, my life was going to be decisively interrupted. And at the time I never saw it coming.

Jesus threaded His way through the sitting bodies to find me.

When our eyes met he stopped. All He did was to ask me simply— “Do you want to be made well?” That question cut through the many years of accrued pain. I mumbled something about the angel, and the pool, and not having anyone to help me into the water. His question pretty much unraveled me. It seemed like it was just Him and me, staring at each other.

He told me to stand, to pick up my mat, and walk.

All of those half-baked days of a wasted life crashed in on me then. I saw all the emptiness and sadness of 38 long years. But in an instant, He healed me. I stood and picked up my mat, I shook my head and cried. Through my tears, I saw my friends looking at me in shocked and total amazement.

I simply walked out of there, carrying the only thing I owned.

“Then the lame will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.”

Isaiah 35:6, CSB

Art: Free Bible Images, text used is from The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson

Meet the Pharisee. Meet the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

The Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

The Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

Meet the Crippled Woman, Healed on the Sabbath

Luke 13:10-13

“He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even lookup. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.”

———————-

(vv. 15-16, Upon criticism by the Pharisees)

(But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”

17 When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.)

I was used to looking at the ground when I walked. My disease had gotten so bad that I had to use crutches to keep my balance. It seemed I sort of adjusted to seeing others out of the corner of my eyes, what can I say, you learn to adapt. You deal with the pain, and I know that many have it much worse.

I’ve endured this for 18 very long years, and at times it was easy to bear, and other times it’s very bitter and hard. God knows my heart, and I’ll take whatever He brings me.

At least I could still attend the weekly service at the synagogue. I made it there faithfully as it was my custom. The people knew me there, and they were quite kind and they accommodated my disability–I had a lot of friends there. I even had my own special spot.

But then Jesus came and taught.

On that Sabbath evening, my miracle came. The service was electric, the teacher that some were calling the Messiah began to speak. His words were coated (that’s all I can say,) with incredible authority. We had never ever heard from anyone like him. The hairs on my head began to tingle.

When he spoke we listened!

Jesus looked and He saw me. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, and I wasn’t expecting anything really. But He asked me to come forward, and again I really didn’t know why. I hobbled to Him with my crutches.

It was then He stated that I was free!

He reached out and touched me. And in an instant I stood up straight as an arrow. The pain was gone, and I was now completely whole. Now I can’t exactly say what happened. All I know was one minute I was twisted and bent over, and the next second I was standing upright!

The Pharisees went bonkers. I suppose my healing didn’t exactly fit in with their theology. I don’t really know about that. They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. They became cruel and nasty. Jesus was angry at their foolishness. All I know is that I was full of joy.

I was now whole!

Jesus made an incredible observation. If a donkey could be untied and led out of a stall on the Sabbath, why couldn’t a real healing happen on God’s special day. This observation blew the Pharisees out-of-the-water. They couldn’t answer his heavenly logic. They were embarrassed. I suppose they now looked like fools to the congregation.

He gave me a new name, “a daughter of Abraham.”

This was a treasure, and I’ve contemplated that new name over the years. What do I now think of Jesus? I truly believe He is the Messiah–the Son of God!

Art: I honestly don’t know, I think it’s public domain. The verses come from the Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation.

Meet the Rich Young Ruler

Mark 10:17-22

As he was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good! 19 But as for your question—you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”

21 Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him; “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor—and you shall have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.”

22 Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.

My name is inconsequential. I suppose all you must know of me is I tried to keep God’s Law and that I was very wealthy. Many believed that being rich was evidence that God approved of me. Of that, I wasn’t too sure. I kept the Law out of fear I suppose, and at times I just knew it wasn’t quite enough.

As I studied I began to realize that riches weren’t going to make me righteous. There was enough Scripture in me to let me know that it wasn’t enough. The prophets, especially Isaiah spoke about the deadliness of wealth, but there was that one verse in Proverbs that really disturbed me:

“Your riches won’t help you on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”

This verse and all of the others were the cause of many a sleepless night.

I was tormented by the reality of standing before God with nothing but my money to cover me. Perhaps I was just being overly concerned. Coming under God’s righteous judgment haunted me. I thought of it day and night. I was terrified of being damned. My righteousness wasn’t enough, and I knew it.

I heard about Jesus (and who hasn’t)–some were claiming that he was the Messiah. He was at least a wonderful teacher and many said he worked miracles. Just perhaps he had answers for me. I hoped so, but I needed to know. It was my questions that drove me to find him.

And finding him was easy–I just followed the crowd.

I went ahead of his retinue of followers. I knelt in his path and waited. I must know what he thought. When he stood before me I asked the question that had haunted me my whole life–“Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Being a good Jew he answered my question with a question. It now seems that he wanted me to see what really mattered. I answered him with my “righteous” commitment to the Law of Moses. I did what was important–at least that’s what I thought. But still, in spite of all that, I felt no security and no real peace.

Jesus looked right at me. I knew deep down that he loved me.

But oh those words, his words really disturbed me. He told me that I only lacked one thing, that I must sell everything and distribute the money to the poor. Only by doing that would discover riches in heaven. And only then could I truly follow him.

And that was the thing I couldn’t do.

I went away grieved. If he had asked for anything else I would have done it. You see, my wealth was my real obstacle. Deep down I suddenly knew that everything I possessed was now my stumbling block. It was my idol, my golden calf, and it was a sacrifice that I could never make.

I’ve come to realize now, over my many years, that when I do finally stand before God, I will have nothing to save me. Jesus invited me to follow, and I didn’t.

And that my friend meant I would die in my sin.