Sunday, November 25, 2012

Taken Out of Context

John 5:1-15 Do you want to get well?
The story is told of Jesus, traveling to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. As he passes by the Sheep Gate, he passes an area where there are many invalids are laying. Of all the invalids there, only one of them is mentioned: a man who had been ill for thirty eight years. Particularly in a time when your life expectancy wasn't much above 50, if that much, it shows that this man has been ill for most of his life!

Now Jesus sees the man there, knowing that he has been there for a long time, and still asks him "Do you want to get well?" This question is so interesting: this man had been ill for so long, and Jesus knew it, but he still asked him, "Do you want to get well?" For most of us, this seems like a no-brainer, I mean, the man had been ill for most of his life, laying by this pool, doing nothing for almost four decades. Of course he wanted to be made well! …right?

Well, looking at it, maybe he didn't. I mean, he was "comfortable" where he was; he was spending all of his time, among people who were just like him, or worse. And he was probably hard pressed to remember a time that he wasn't there, laying at that pool. In fact, when Jesus asks him this question, he cites what he was missing out on by being there, but he never actually says yes. What he did say to Jesus was two-fold, however: firstly that when the water is stirred up so that it's not just stagnant water, there was no one to help him get to it; secondly, when he did start making his way to the water, someone always gets there ahead of him. Apparently, ever so often as angel of the Lord would come and stir up the pool, and the first one to get there after this happened would be healed and made whole.

He responds not by saying yes, of course, or even by being skeptical of this stranger who asks him what seems to be a ridiculous question. He instead states what he was missing by being ill. Moreover, his response was still in the context of what he knew: that pool, that way of escape from his illness. So the next thing Jesus says to him is "Stand up, take your mat and walk." Jesus simply tells the man to get up from where he was, gather his belongings and leave the place that he'd spent most of his life! I mean, why not just tell him that in the first place? But no, first Jesus had to establish that the only way that the man new of leaving that current place was not working for this particular man.

Aren't we the same? We're stuck in a situation, unable to help ourselves, forgetting what life was like before this, and Jesus comes along and asks us if we want to get out using a method that we have not yet seen. And instead of being eager to move out, we focus on the things the way we know things to be at that place that we are presently at, instead of realizing that Jesus is offering us the opportunity to step out of that particular context altogether! We make ourselves so comfortable where we are, that we only can think of improving our lives within the context of our position, within what we already know.

In the meantime, as soon as he walks away with his mat, the man meets up with some Jews, but that encounter in itself could be an entire blog post, so we'll skip ahead for now.

Later on, Jesus finds the man again: he seeks him out to tell him, "See you are well again!" Then he goes on to say "Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." Jesus points out what has been done for the man, and couples it with a warning to make sure the man doesn't get stuck somewhere worse  later! The same warning applies to us: even as we are walking around in the new thing that Jesus has done in our lives, we should at the same moment be reminded that there are consequences for our actions:we could end up stuck somewhere worse if we aren't careful about the way that we live.

So what can we learn from all of this? Jesus is able to completely change where we are in life, not just improving our lives, but giving us a fresh start, enabling us to walk away from the place associated with what we were lacking. Jesus is able to change the context of our lives! At the same time, he reminds us that now we have new responsibilities so that we don't end up in a situation that is worse than the one that we just walked out of! Furthermore, Jesus is able to act outside of what we envision to be our only way out: he shows that he has power to move outside of the context of what is familiar to us.
Be blessed and shine anew!

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A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word! -Prov 15:23