Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cameo appearances

John 5: 1-18

Today's Bible Study was bizarre. I was in one of my "I know what you need to do" moods. (Always a dangerous thing...) I had overheard a conversation earlier where one sister was upbraiding another for something not done correctly, or sufficiently, or something... and I had heard the sister on the receiving end offering excuses, and the sister on the giving end not buying them. So of course I knew what both needed to do. One of those sisters was in my Bible study.

We sometimes take a moment of silence before we begin, and it was only by the grace of God that I asked for help to speak... not what I wanted to say, but what the Spirit wanted her to hear. (Imagine that.)

We read the lesson. It was the passage where Jesus meets the man at the pool of Bethesda. The man had been afflicted (with something) for thirty-eight years, and Jesus cured him. It just happened to be on the Sabbath. The whole controversy over healing on the sacred day of rest, and the subsequent retort by Jesus that "My father is still working and so am I" got him into even more trouble.

But that wasn't the thrust of the reading for me. I was onto something totally different. I remember one of our celebrants mentioning that the "cameo" appearances by so many of the bit players in the stories of the Bible can tell us more about ourselves than the plot line.

If Jesus was the star, then the man at the pool played a cameo role. His dialogue and actions shed light on a bitter truth about us... this guy was invested in his identity.

Jesus asked him: "Do you want to get well?" Instead of answering, the man went to great lengths to explain why he hadn't been able to get well. He had nobody to help him down to the pool; somebody always got there first. He identified with his own martyr complex. Jesus cut straight through the excuses, didn't bat an eye, said "Pick up your mat and walk."

At that point the man was immediately healed. (This was not one of the cases where someone's faith set them free, this was Jesus' work. The man had no say... one minute he was ill, the next he was well.) So off he went with his mat and was soon accosted by the Sabbath Police. "It's unlawful to carry your mat on the Sabbath," they said. So what did he do? He blamed Jesus. Except he didn't know it was Jesus at that point, just some guy who had healed him.

Later... Jesus found him in the temple. What was he doing in the temple, I wonder? Was he thanking God for his miraculous healing, or was he wondering how he was going to survive with no excuse for sitting around the pool? Jesus then said something very strange: "You are well now. Sin no more, or something worse may happen to you." That implies (to me) that Jesus knew something about this man's past that hit a nasty nerve. Because what did he do next? He ran and tattled to the Sabbath Police that it was Jesus who had healed him.

Too much too soon. The man had an identity. If not comfortable, it was at least familiar... he was a martry. Poor man, waiting at that pool all those years, nobody to help him... Along came somebody who cared enough to cut through the bullsh*t and ask a straight question. "Do you want to get well?"

I think of the identities that I'm so attached to. What are the restrictions of those identities that I'm not willing to see? Not willing to risk giving up, because what would be left is too far out of my comfort zone?

We can be the voice of Christ to each other. But it's so hard to hear. It's easy to think that if Jesus Himself spoke to us we'd listen. I don't think so. I am able to take the truth in bits and pieces, but too much too soon makes me bristle, just like the man at Bethesda.


HeyJules said...

Wow, CJ, there's so much to think about here! I'm sure this will hang on my mind the rest of the day.

Zanne said...

Great post CG! And so convicting.
Of course when I thought about how invested we can get in our comfortable and familiar identities, I immediately thought of someone else! I too bristle at the truth because it's very often beyond what I think myself capable of. That's why I love your point about Jesus doing it, not the man having his faith intact in order to be healed. Gives me hope somehow that even when I haven't asked and am prone to excuses, that Jesus is bringing healing anyway. Thanks again for a great post!

Pat said...

Thank you for this!