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. 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 any more, 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.
In this reading from John’s Gospel we hear of the invalid who had come to the pool at Bathzatha to be healed. The man could not find anyone to carry him to the pool because it was the Sabbath. Jesus directs the man to “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” The man did so and was made well.
This seems a rather different heavenly intervention from the typical Old Testament God—commanding, demanding and creating for His people. Jesus is one of us. As a fellow human being, Jesus gives the lame man work to do before he is made whole. Jesus doesn’t ask the man for lock-step obedience or the sacrifice of many bulls—He asks the lame man to do impossible work: to “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
In each of Jesus’ eight miracles recounted in the Gospel of John, Jesus asks a person to do work to accomplish the miracle. In Cana at the wedding, Jesus asks servants to fill the water vessels. Healing the official’s son, Jesus tells the official to turn away and walk away. When distributing the loaves and fishes, Jesus tells the disciples to pick up the crumbs that turn into the loaves and fishes. When Jesus walks on water, He tells the disciples to help Him get on board the boat. Jesus tells the blind man to bathe in the pool before his sight is restored. Jesus tells Martha to remove the stone from Lazarus’ grave to view the living Lazarus, and Jesus tells the disciples to physically cast the empty net on the other side of the boat before it can be filled with fish.
Jesus asks more of us, perhaps, than the God of the Old Testament. He is not necessarily asking us to obey the many laws and commandments and sacrifice cattle; instead, He is asking us to pitch in with Him to do the often difficult, real work of advancing God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus made it sound simple, leaving us with only two commandments: Love the Lord your God, and Love your Neighbor as yourself. But it is rarely simple to love God (all the time) and our neighbors (all of them). And it often requires very difficult work. However, in our daily life, full of the complexities of finances, politics and relationships, Jesus has reduced our theological complexity to His two “simple” commandments. If we do the often difficult work of loving God, all the time, and loving our neighbors—all of them—God promises to join with us in performing the miracles that will change us and our world forever.
Appointed readings for today: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-28, Psalm 23, John 8:31-42