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Friday, October 14, 2011

Greater Hope, Greater Acceptance

John 5:1After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" 7The 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 going another steps down before me." 8Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." 11But he answered them, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk.'" 12They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."

As I continue to encounter God through the Gospel of John, I find myself amazed at the claims Christ made about Himself (He is God). Through His claims, I find amazement in all He does to show that He is the only hope that actually makes sense in this world and the next. You see this emphasized in the incident of the invalid man at Bethesda.

Built by Nehemiah, there was by the the Sheep Gate, a pool which was believed to have healing powers. Many Biblical historians believed that the first person to enter the pool as it started to stir was healed, thus, a multitude of invalids including the blind, lame, and the paralyzed we're awaiting an opportunity to be the first to jump in. Among the crowds, there was one man who had been an invalid for 38 years. The language suggests that he had not always been invalid, but instead had become that way 38 years ago. At the time, all people who we're born with such diseases could not be a part of the community life, something he probably was a part of at one point, but now, had only vague memories of. The thing is, for the Jews, community was the central institution for their life, it was nothing like being in LA where people didn't have to belong to a particular group in order to be accepted. In LA (and most of the US), you could be a part of as many social groups as you like or none at all, and no one would say anything, nor would you feel any external pressure and condemnation from anyone. Temple life was community life to the Jews and to not be able to be a part of it because you were considered unclean or a "sinner" meant you weren't a part of the most important thing of the time. It meant you were a second class citizen.

The pool, we know, was infamous because of the amount of people that had camped out by it. I think it would be safe to say that it was a lot like skid row, where there are tons of homeless people just hoping to get shelter for the night. Most shelters practice a first come, first serve policy. If you are in line and far enough up in line that there is a bed available as you approach the front of the line, you get a bed for the night, if not, then you can only hope that another shelter nearby hasn't been filled up. Imagine if among the hundreds and thousands of people waiting in line for a bed, that only one could get one for the night. This was the very picture of healing.

On top of that, people who had less incapacitating diseases found it much easier to just stroll by and jump in when the waters started to stir - people who had minor cuts or bruises, acne or even a broken arm could just dive in faster than the blind, lame, and paralyzed. This kept the man hopelessly hopeful that his situation would change. He had nothing to really look forward to in life, thus everyday, he waited by the pool because it was the only thing he found hope in that would give him everything he wanted in life: acceptance. The drive to be accepted is one of the greatest drives out there. Guys who join gangs are willing to get beat up as initiation and sometimes kill people to prove their loyalty. Girls in high school change their stripes and become people that they aren't so that they could find an affiliation with the group that they think could help make people think that they are popular. You see it in movies, how people, just to find acceptance will join cults, pursue specific career paths, and even place themselves in danger so that they can be a part of something, that something can give their existence meaning.

When Jesus saw the man and knew that the man had been there for a long time, He asked him, "Do you want to be healed?" I found this to be an odd question to ask as people who awaited the pool to stir were all desiring healing. What I found to be odder was the invalid's response, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." The man, who had clearly not known Jesus, had just revealed to Him that he had been abandoned and that he was at his wits end. At one point, he probably had people trying to help him into the pool, but so did many others who were there. Slowly, but surely, people gave up on him. After months of trying, they might have said something like, "Forget it already. We've come out to this pool to intermingle with all the invalids trying to help you and every time we try to help you, you are either too difficult to get in or someone else beats us to it. Just give up already, accept your lot, and hang out at home." But for the invalid, that was not an option, and for 38 years, his hope was in being healed so that he could once again say that he belongs.

To this, Jesus simply responds, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." So the man, who was instantly healed did just that.

At this point, Jesus had still not revealed Himself to the invalid. The invalid, overwhelmed with great joy for being able to walk after being paralyzed for 38 years had most likely just walked away in shock at what was going on. He literally got up, took his mat, and walked away. Jesus then withdrew as the man was carrying his mat to go to the temple where his acceptance would be solidified. The man gathered a crowd as it was against Jewish law to do any work on the Sabbath (a day reserved for rest and remembrance) and carrying a mat would be a direct violation of Sabbath laws.

My sister, works at UCLA Hospital as does a couple friends of mine. On Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath), if you ride the elevator up and down, you notice that in order to get to the lobby from the top floor, that even if you press the lobby button, you will stop at every floor. They program some of the elevators at UCLA to do this so that if there are any Jews who observe the Sabbath, they wouldn't have to press the elevator button as it is considered work and not rest. The Sabbath was and still continues to be a very important day in the week. Therefore, doing any sort of work would draw all sorts of attention. You then have to wonder, why, the invalid continued to carry his mat.

I believe he carried the mat for a few reasons. First of all, he may have been attached to the mat as a physical object like a blankie is for a child. It was his safe haven for as long as he had it and it was his only source of comfort outside of the hope he had of actually being healed. Secondly, he might not have been certain whether this healing would last and so he carried it with him just in case he had to return to the pool. Thirdly, it could have a reminder that he may have wanted to keep that he was once an invalid, but now, he was healthy person just like everyone else. Some people keep casts from when they broke their bones, he kept his mat. Fourthly, he was obedient. Later, as the Jewish leaders encircled him, he responds to them by saying, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, "Take up your bed, and walk." So out of obedience and amazement, he just started to walk with his mat.

Here is where I believe the man realized something. He realized that the very thing he hoped for was anticlimactic. Once the amazement of his healing had begun to subside, he realized that being healed wouldn't be the answer to his need for acceptance. This, is why I believe Jesus didn't reveal himself to Him right away. The book of John is a narrative of 21-22 days of Jesus' life. By this point, people had already wanted to kill Him for all the claims He had been making saying He is one with the Father and that He was the long awaited Messiah.

Then, after the Jewish leaders had finished their questioning, Jesus approaches the man in the temple, the very place the man thought he would find the acceptance he so longed for, but instead, found himself in wanting an acceptance that being in the temple could not provide. When Christ came to him a second time, this time, he was able to put his own problems and needs aside to hear what Christ had to say. At this time, not only did he understand where his healing came from, but where salvation and full acceptance comes from. Christ had revealed to the man that He was greater than the healing the invalid man had experienced and that He was a far better hope.

Christ had come to the man when he was abandoned by those he considered family and friends. The man, being invalid for so long, had lost his identity and all associations to people except for those at the pool, but even they were competitors to him as only the first could get healed. Christ revealed that the man had placed his hope on all the wrong things, from the pool to the community he wanted to belong to, and in His great love, He revealed Himself to the invalid man to show him that He was the great hope who provided abundant acceptance.

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