Saturday, March 31, 2012

Could be Worse

Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you (John 5:14).

We’re all preachers. Every single one of us.

It doesn’t matter how you earn your living or what you believe about God. Everyone preaches – and usually to a congregation of one. We all preach to ourselves. Sometimes our sermons comfort. Sometimes they condemn.

In the world of psychology we call our preaching ‘self-talk.’ All of us have ways of exhorting and encouraging ourselves. We have messages that we speak to ourselves to get us through something or guide us in a mess. Yes, we are all preachers.

And this is a standard sermon: “Could be worse.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say those words. Having done three years of hospital ministry I can say with confidence that this is standard doctrine among the afflicted. Even those who are actually experiencing the ‘worst’ will remind themselves that it could be worse. It is a universal exhortation.


At the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem Jesus had healed a man, relieving him of some nondescript affliction that had had a chokehold on his life for 38 years.

This man had not sought Jesus. He had not asked Jesus for healing. He appears not to have known who Jesus was or to have had any kind of faith in Jesus. As far as this man knew, he was simply answering a question about his illness, explaining his hopeless plight. Jesus’ act of healing was pure gift. It was all grace.

But in the aftermath of this grace and mercy there is a strange line at the end of the story. Jesus finds the man in the temple crowd (again – notice who does the finding) and tells him, “See, you are well. Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you.”

This sounds odd, even a bit harsh. Is this a threat? What does Jesus mean? Having shown so much mercy is Jesus now saying “You better be good or God will strike you with something worse?” If the man was crippled, is Jesus now threatening him with crippled legs and blindness, or blindness with leprosy? Probably not.

This is no threat. This healed man would not be afflicted by God with more severe pain. He would not be ravaged by a more vicious disease. He would not be sent back to the pool.

What Jesus knows is this: There is something worse than 38 years of affliction. What’s worse is a pain-free life void of God. A life centered entirely on self. A life given to advancing a self agenda and basking in self indulgence. What we sow in this life we reap in the next. And that is indeed the worse that could happen.

What’s worse than suffering with an awareness of God’s presence and grace? Living at ease with no knowledge of the same. Sure, things could be worse – but worse is not always what we think it is.

We give you thanks, O God, for the way your grace finds us in the worst of circumstances. We thank for the way you take what is hard and use it to bless us. Guard us from the worst that could happen – a life lived without you, centered on self. We turn to you today in constant reliance on your mercy, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

1 comment:

Victoria said...

You do such a great job at pointing out aspects of the Scriptures that I have never noticed ... little details that are so important. Bravo!