Next Sunday, Easter 6C, I am doing a pulpit swap with a peer. She’ll be with the good people of Zion-Hickory, NC and I will be with the good people of Emmanuel-High Point, NC. This will be some seriously faithful fun. I am every bit as excited as I am anxious—good excitement and healthy anxiety. I am moving with my mat. And moving with my mat feels oh so very good!
Two gospel readings are options. I am going with option #2: John 5:1-9. It’s all about getting past that disempowering pool and moving with your circumstantial mat:
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew -Beth-zatha which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
Look at that perennial stretch on the mat—–38 self-perpetuating years of the same old same old, day in-day out, sitting, watching, waiting, business of holding that mat down, keeping unholy vigil by the edge of powerfully disempowering Bethzatha pool. There he sat, imprisoned by perceptions and circumstances—grounded by a pool and welded to a mat.
And there Jesus steps on to the scene.
Jesus asks a question that could receive a simple “yes” or “no” answer: “Do you want to be made well?”
Instead of a simple answer, what Jesus receives is a litany of circumstance, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Note, in the next instance, that Jesus doesn’t engage the litany of circumstance but issues a three-part command: “Stand up, take your mat, and walk.”
The mat—the symbol of circumstance is not abandoned and dropped at the disempowering water’s edge. The mat is carried away by the man whose mat it is, and off they go together, away from the waters that had held him for 38 years in the world of “one of these days.” It’s an end, finally and decisively drawn, to the long years of the one-of-these-days I’ll have a hope, a future, a life, etc., thinkings and modalities.
We must conclude that the Bethzatha (Bethesda, Bethsaida) pool, in all of its “one of these days” glory, is one of the most powerfully disempowering forces in our lives. Bethzatha pool certainly snagged the man on the mat, and it certainly snags all of us on our mats, too. It causes us to sit right there on our mats, right there by its tranquil side, and there we’ll sit, saying to ourselves and to any who will listen, “One of these days, oh, one of these days.”
One of these days:
- I’ll earn my degree.
- I’ll stop dating people who aren’t good for me.
- I’ll start living a better life.
- I’ll apologize for what I said that night so many years ago.
- I’ll lose this “pony keg” that passes for my stomach.
- He’ll realize what a friend I am.
- I’ll forgive my “ex:” boss, lover, husband, wife, etc.
- She’ll be the kind of girl I’ll want to marry, but until then…
- I’ll put down the bottle and participate in life rather than medicate it.
- I’ll (fill in the blank)
- I’ll get into Bethzatha pool and then life’ll be fine.
“One of the days”—those words become our words through the powerful disempowerment of Bethzatha pool. The pool turns our life into paralytic waiting. It’s the place where our single “one of these days” moments turn into a collective 38 literal or metaphoric years of our own disempowered paralytic malaise—for the pool places us into the same old same old, day in-day out, sitting, watching, waiting, business of holding that mat down by the edge of Bethzatha pool. And once it has us, we’ll gladly stay there in the grip of the pool. It’s like the Lotus Eater portion in Book IX of Homer’s Odyssey. It’s our point of being totally, powerfully, disempowered—and maybe loving every single minute of it.
And that’s where Jesus comes to us—he never becomes the person “to put [us] into the pool when the water is stirred up.” He does not come not to put us into the water, but to meet us at our mat. He doesn’t lift us into the pool, doesn’t help us past the line, doesn’t stop those who’d cut in front of us. He does nothing to change our circumstance. Instead he meets us there—right there at our mat he meets us. Right there at our circumstantial mat is where Jesus meets us. He has no part of Bethzatha pool. Perhaps he isn’t into glorifying the source of our disempowerment.
Perhaps this is why—right there by the Bethzatha pool— he asks us a question, “Do you want to be made well?”
And then rather than say “yes” or “no” what do we offer him in response? Isn’t it our whole series of “one of these days” remarks?
Rather than be healed we’ll be pleased to offer Jesus our litany of circumstances. And—grace upon grace—Jesus heals us anyway.
Now make no mistake—I am not making light of our circumstances. Those circumstances are real and they touch us deeply, I totally get it, but I am saying that Jesus meets us in those circumstances, and further, offers us the chance to see that there is so much more to us than the sum total of those circumstances. And in this fashion, Jesus heals us. He joins us in our circumstances and commands us to, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
And there is the miracle—we rise, no longer sitting in our circumstances, but now standing in our circumstances. We rise, now taking our circumstances with us, and upon rising, we walk. Our circumstances no longer have us—we have them. And in that moment the “one of these days” thinkings and modalities, drawn from the powerfully disempowering Bethzatha pool, no longer hold sway over us.
Jesus has come.
So we’re down to this—–when Jesus offers to heal us, do we go right on sitting on top of our circumstantial mat, entranced by the powers of the Bethzatha pool, with all of our hours to be spent moaning out, “one o’ these days, one o’these days,” or when Jesus pops the healing question, do we say, “Jesus—stand me up, give me my mat, and make me walk!”