Good day. It is a pleasure to be with you once again thank you for welcoming us into your homes. On this the Sixth Sunday of Easter I pray you will feel the grace, peace and love of God as we, thanks to the internet, gather to offer our prayers and praises to our wonderful creator.
Dear friends, let us worship.
The Gospel Introduction
Today we find ourselves once again in Jerusalem with Jesus. It is the Sabbath and, according to the writer of the Gospel of John, we are by the Sheep Gate, the northern gate of Jerusalem, at a pool, called Beth-zatha, perhaps more commonly Bethsaida.
According to the writer of John, Beth-zatha was a bathing pool with five porticos or porches where a large numbers of infirm people were waiting. It is in verse 4, a verse that is not in all ancient manuscripts and is omitted from the New Revised Translation from which we will read, that we discover that they were waiting for an angel from the Lord to come down and stir the pool and when the waters were stirred, they sought to be the first to enter the waters believing that the first to enter would be healed.
On this particular Sabbath Jesus heals a man who had been ill for many years and could not make his own way into the pool.
But, as we will see, there is more to the story. But for the moment, we join Jesus at Beth-zatha’s pool-side.
I don’t know where I heard it but apparently the “trick” of magic is misdirection – the ability of the magician to draw the audience’s attention to one thing, a wave of the hand or some other seemingly inconsequential flourish, while the “magic” happens unobserved.
Well, sometimes something similar happens when we follow the appointed Bible readings of the day that come from the Revised Common Lectionary – or any pre- determined list of biblical readings for that matter. Today’s reading from the
Gospel of John is a case in point. The lectionary indicated that we were to read
only the first nine verses of the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel. And that is what we have done.
However, in doing so we are drawn to focus on the healing of the man who had been ill for 38 years who Jesus engaged at the pool of Beth-zatha in Jerusalem. All well and good, there is nothing wrong with a good healing story – certainly there are plenty of them in the canonical Gospels. The thing though is that there is more to the story. This healing story doesn’t end with the man, now healed, picking up his mat and walking off while Jesus goes on with his day. Actually, Jesus’ instruction to the man after the healing to take up his mat prompts a protest that the religious customs and traditions of the Sabbath have been broken.
The tip-off that there is more to the story lies in the last six words we heard read. At the end of verse 9, the author adds, “Now that day was a Sabbath.” which is where the appointed lectionary reading ends. “Now that day was a Sabbath” seems a bit of an odd way to end the healing story – unless there is more – and the attentive reader will recognize that this is not the end of the story, for more there is! The significance of it being the Sabbath becomes crystal clear in the subsequent nine verses which we have not read today and which, in fact, are never appointed to be read by the Revised Common Lectionary. The miracle story of the first nine verses becomes, in verses 10 – 18, a conflict story and the two parts are hinged together by the seemingly casual statement, “Now that day was a Sabbath.”
So, to remove the subjective, one-sided focusing of our attention only on the healing part of this moment in the life of Jesus, let me read on … Verse nine states, “Now that day was a Sabbath.” And then verse ten continues …
“So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such
things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.”
As is always the case, Jesus’ caring for someone on the Sabbath creates problems. The Sabbath was a time when Jesus often caused a stir for healing, feeding, and caring for others and each time Jesus did something good, something caring, something loving for someone on the Sabbath, the religious authorities accused him of breaking the Sabbath law, Sabbath customs and Sabbath traditions.
It wasn’t so much that Jesus healed, feed or cared for others that was the problem – it was the day! It wasn’t so much that the man had been healed and walked away carrying his mat – it was the day. That day was a Sabbath.
It’s important to remember that God instituted the Sabbath for the Israelites when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments. On the seventh day of the week, the Israelites were to rest, remembering that God created the universe in six days and then “rested” on the seventh day. The Sabbath was given for the benefit of the people and as a sign of the Mosaic Covenant. However, over time perspectives on the Sabbath changed. By Jesus’ time, the religious leaders had added burdensome rules and traditions for keeping the Sabbath and criticism ran rampant whenever Jesus did something caring that they considered work on the Sabbath. And not only that, in this particular story it seems as if Jesus caused another to violate the strict legal understanding of the religious leaders when he told the healed man to pick up his mat and walk. Apparently the simple act of carrying a mat was considered work by the religious authorities and thereby was a violation of the Sabbath.
So, what’s to be made of all this?
Well, I think that one takeaway we have from this story echoes that which we
focused on last Sunday when we heard about the radical shift in the understanding
of St. Peter in regard to the will of God and the role of human traditions.
Jesus cared and cured on the Sabbath to help people, to glorify God and to remind
people that the Sabbath was instituted to be a blessing for humanity, not a
The conflict in this story is really a conflict between the burdensome, even
oppressive, standard of holiness as imposed by the traditions and Sabbath laws
developed by the religious authorities and the blessing God intended, and Jesus
understood, it to be.
The religious authorities, it seems, had so imposed their own standard of holiness
on God’s intentions which led them to accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law.
But it was only their humanly developed Sabbath law Jesus did not keep. Jesus
remained true to the spirit of the law of God. The message of Jesus was that the
Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath and that is what
rubbed the religious authorities the wrong way. And their way of dealing with an
unappetizing message was to kill the messenger. That is what the Jewish leaders
decide to do with Jesus.
Jesus knew that God’s love and caring and compassion and longing for a renewed
relationship with humanity didn’t get put on hold just because it was the Sabbath.
Jesus, in accord with God, understood time differently.
While the religious authorities fixated on the clock, Jesus fixated on the moment. Jesus reminded
them and reminds us that even on the day of rest, the Sabbath, God’s transformative love is always at work. God’s redemptive love is always ready to spring forth. In Greek it is “kairos” time rather than “chronos” time. In ancient Greek “chronos” time was quantitative and refered to chronological or sequential time whereas “kairos” was qualitative and signified a proper or opportune time for action. “Kairos” time is a sacred moment that can’t be calculated but can be cultivated.
This story gives us yet another example of the perfect timing, the divine timing, of Jesus as he lives life in, through and out of the values of the Kingdom of God. In doing so he opened the hearts and minds of those around him who had eyes to see and he calls us to open our hearts and turn our minds to God’s will and purpose. To restate what I said last week, God’s will and purpose always trump human traditions whenever our human traditions contradict or confound the will and purpose and love and grace of God. Today we will affirm that there is no commandment greater than the commandment to love and as Jesus has shown us time and time again, in the Kingdom of God there is only “kairos”time; all time is the opportune time to follow this commandment and to show the world the love and grace of God.