Get up and walk!

May 9, 2010

Address for Family Communion Service.  (John 5, 1-9)

( invite children present to come and join in)

This area on the floor represents a pool. When I say ‘Now!’ everyone jump in the pool. First one on wins.

That’s too easy. Make it more difficult. You’ve got a bad hand. You’ve got one bad leg. You’ve got two legs that don’t work so you have to sit on the ground all the time and can’t stand up.

Let’s try it again. ‘Now’.  Ah, that sorted everyone out. But was it fair. No, the  person with bad legs had no chance.

How would he have a better chance?- if someone helped him. But no-one around.

Last week the Sunday School were learning about how things are better if we work together. Things would have been fairer for man at the pool in the gospel story if people had worked together and helped him to be healed. Like the paralysed man in the story in Mark’s Gospel whose friends took him to see Jesus.

But when Jesus came along the situation changed. Jesus just asked him if he wanted to get well. He said ‘Yes’, and Jesus told him to get up and walk. And he did. Once Jesus was there, he didn’t need anything or anyone else in order to be well. You don’t need anyone else to make contact with God through Jesus. You can meet him, and ask him to make you better  just as you are.

That’s one message we can take from this miracle story. But there are others.

On the surface, this is a simple story of a healing. But it is a story from John’s Gospel, and therefore we have to look much deeper to understand what John is really telling us. In John, more than any of the other Gospels, places and numbers matter. It’s like solving a crossword puzzle clue or following treasure hunt instructions.

So let’s look at the story in more detail to see what the those things are telling us. It takes place by the Sheep Gate – and John’s Gospel says that Jesus tells us he is the gate for the sheep. So it’s contrasting the old sheep-gate with the new. Around the pool are five porticoes – you can see them in the picture on your service sheet. The sick people lie under them. There are 5 books of the law in the Jewish Torah – so is John saying people lie paralysed under the old law?

People compete to be healed by going into the water – in John’s Gospel water again stands for the old covenant with God through the Law – remember the water that was turned to wine at the marriage at Cana? But very few make it and some have no chance at all. The paralysed man had been trying for 38 years, on his own; 38 years is the number of years the Hebrews wandered in the desert before entering the Promised Land. Again, John may be drawing a contrast between salvation under the old covenant and the new.

Jesus asks the man ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The Greek word used for ‘healed’ can also mean ‘made whole’ or even ‘be saved’. So John is saying Jesus is offering not just physical healing but also salvation and forgiveness of sins.

All the paralysed man has to do is to say ‘Yes’ to Jesus – he doesn’t have to express faith, he doesn’t have to meet any conditions. All he actually does is make excuses – but still Jesus tells him to get up, take up the symbol of his infirmities and walk – and he does.

This is not just a simple account of a healing miracle. It is expressing the belief of the writer of John’s Gospel that Jesus alone has the power to bring us healing, wholeness and salvation, so long as we are willing to listen to him and follow his instructions, and leave behind all the things that bind us to our infirmities.

And that’s the challenge this story presents us with. Being whole is not just about our bodies. It is also about our minds, and our hearts and our spirits  – and our prejudices and our social systems and our world.

We can remain sitting under our old laws – discredited ideas and systems, fear of change, resentment, injustice, selfishness,  addiction, secular loyalties or the belief that God’s love is rationed and that we have to compete for it by being certain sorts of people or behaving in certain ways. Or we can meet Jesus and listen to what he says and obey his simple instruction to get up and walk away from all that into new life.

All we have to do is really want to be whole and to become the people God created us to be.

Are we ready to hear that unconditional offer from Jesus? Are we ready to take up our mats and walk with him?

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