Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Found and Known

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (John 5:1).

When I was a child Easter meant something other than ‘new life.’ Easter meant ‘new clothes.’

For whatever reason, the week or days before Easter was a time for my mom to take us shopping for clothes, church clothes to be precise. The shopping expedition for school clothes came at the end of summer. Easter was the season for worship-wear, stiff and scratchy fabrics and sometimes hard-soled boring shoes.

I guess this was one way I knew that Easter was a big deal. “He is risen . . . and I have a new suit.”

What a Depressing Place

Easter Sunday may the closest thing we have to what John calls “a feast of the Jews.” On Easter Sunday the crowds swell, the parking lot is full, the music is big, there’s a special offering, and after the worship there is feasting with family.

So it was with feast days in Jerusalem. The population of the city exploded with pilgrims who had come for worship and celebration. Special offerings and sacrifices were made. And there was food. Food and family.

In John 5 we are told that Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. What is missing here is any mention of exactly which feast it was. Leviticus 23 designates the feasts which Israel was to observe, but John shows no interest in telling us which of these was being celebrated in Jerusalem when Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda. From the time of the Church Fathers opinions have ranged from Pentecost to Purim to Passover. Calvin explores the options in his commentary on John and then concludes “I will not dispute the matter.” I’ll go with Calvin on this one.

What John is very clear about is the pool: it is located near the sheep gate; in Aramaic it is called ‘Bethesda.’ John provides architectural detail in mentioning the five roofed colonnades. And he tells us about the people who gathered there. This was where ‘a multitude of invalids’ congregated – blind, lame, paralyzed. What a depressing and disgusting place.

And yet, in the midst of this city, pulsating with crowds and the sounds and rhythms of worship and celebration, this is where Jesus went.

Will We Do the Same?

In our church we have no special seating section for the broken among us. There’s no pew, no balcony, marked ‘invalids.’ But every week, in each and every gathering, they are among us.

Indeed, there really are no entirely whole and put-together people in any worship gathering. We all bring something that’s injured, something that isn’t working right, something that hurts.

But in our gatherings – at Easter and Christmas and any ordinary Sunday – we do a good job of concealing those wounds. We do it with clothes and smiles. We do it with quiet anonymity in a large crowd of worshipers.

What we conceal, Jesus sees. In the midst of the ‘feast,’ the throng of people and the sounds of worship and celebration, Jesus finds his way to the ones who aren’t celebrating.

The question is whether we will do the same. That might be hard, not unlike playing “Where’s Waldo,’ looking for someone who wants to be made well. And it also means that we ourselves have experienced the grace that Jesus gives.

Walking with Jesus will take us to the pool where broken multitudes spend their days. For those who have been found and known and made well, there’s just no getting around it.


In our worst moments, O God, you find us. You know who we are and you seek us out, offering us grace and wholeness. Grant that we would walk with you this day in the same way, seeking those whom you are seeking through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What Will Make Us Well?

“Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up . . .” (John 5:7).

When my kids were small they couldn’t get enough of the pool.

We were there all the time. I would get home from work and the begging would begin and off we’d go. Weather was irrelevant. What felt to me like cloudy and cool in late spring was still good pool weather as far as my kids were concerned. They didn’t think twice about plunging in even if the frigid water made their teeth chatter.

No more. My kids enjoy the pool often enough these days, but now it’s a social thing. It’s all about who’s going to be there. No friends, no pool. And showing up with Dad is not cool. I spend far less time pool-side these days.

But like the man by the pool of Bethesda, I know what it is to sit by the pool waiting on something to happen that will make me well. 

The Not-Valid Ones

This week we’ll walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, to the pool of Bethesda. In John’s story the pool was a gathering place for all kinds of afflicted people. The ESV Bible says that the place was occupied by a “multitude of invalids.”

That particular English word suggests something more than ‘sick’ or ‘crippled.’ They were the not-valid ones – and this is a widespread illness, even now. Far too many people live with a sense of being ‘not valid,’ and they are waiting for something to validate them – something that will say they matter, they are worthy.    

John tells us that when the waters of the pool were stirred or agitated, the first person to get into the pool would be healed. There is a tradition that says an angel would come and stir the waters. Some scholars have suggested that underground springs caused the bubbling effect. Either way, people believed that healing was in the pool. The afflicted who gathered there waited and hoped, yearning for the wholeness that could come from those waters.

Nothing Else Needed

In this sense, we all know what it is to sit by the pool. Some of us have been there longer than others. The pool is whatever we’re waiting on that will validate us. The pool is whatever we are looking to for a sense of wholeness. The pool, we believe, will make everything OK.

That pool might be a new job or a new house. It might be a promotion or a deal that closes. Sometimes the pool is a husband or wife . . .  or perhaps a different husband or wife. For many the pool is a big break or a sought after breakthrough, a final payment or the last treatment.

In John’s story Jesus shows up and basically says, “Forget about the pool.” He ignores it – the bubbling water and the race to get there first – all of it. Wholeness is found in Jesus. He doesn’t come to help anyone get to the pool. He brings healing directly to us and he does it by speaking. The presence of Jesus is powerful and he grants healing by his word. Jesus doesn’t show to give us some help in getting to what will make us well. He is sufficient for our healing, nothing else needed.        

But first, a question: “Do you want to be well?” That question sits silently behind all of our reflections this week. Today let’s focus on this: Where is your ‘pool?’ And how long will you sit there?

We have spent far too much time, O God, sitting by ‘pools’ that we believed would make us well. Find us in those places, we pray, and make us whole by the power of your word and the gift of your presence in our lives. Call our attention away from what cannot heal. Turn our eyes toward your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Our Heavy Steps

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem . . . Jesus himself drew near and went with them (Luke 24:13-15).


No one knows for sure where Emmaus is.

You could catch a plane this afternoon and fly to Tel-Aviv, rent a car and make the short drive to Jerusalem, but that’s about as close as you’d get to Emmaus. Luke tells us that this village was about seven miles from Jerusalem, but he didn’t see fit to provide us with anything we could search for on a GPS. Scholars have offered some possibilities in their studied attempts to identify Emmaus. But guesses are the best we can do.

We don’t know where Emmaus is, and yet we’ve been there. Emmaus is the direction our lives take when we live our days disappointed and let down. Emmaus is where we go when hope is fragile or abandoned altogether.

The Emmaus road is marked by footprints pressed deep in the dirt. It is the way of the heavy step.


A Familiar and Forlorn Way

You may be walking the Emmaus road today. Obviously, that’s not meant as a geographical statement. The roads you’ll be on today may be the same roads that you’re on every day – getting to work or to the grocery store or to the carpool line. You’ve know those roads well.

But today you traverse those roads with a heavy step. You’re carrying with you the weight of disappointment. Hopes and expectations that just days ago were on the threshold of becoming reality have vanished, for whatever reason. In their place are confusion, questions, despondency. And so you travel familiar roads that now seem strange.

That’s what Luke describes for us when he tells about Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus making their way back to Emmaus soon after the crucifixion of Jesus. They had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the story of God’s deliverance. They had gone their anticipating that a new deliverance was in the works and that Jesus would be the one to accomplish it.

None of that happened. The celebrations went south. Jesus was executed. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (24:21). Those hopes were now trashed. Time to go back to Emmaus. They walked a well-known road, this time with a heavy step and forlorn faces.

And then Jesus drew near and walked with them.         


What Might Have Been

Our disappointments have a way of clouding our vision. The more frequent they are, thickening like a cataract on the soul, the harder it is for us to see that Jesus is walking with us.

This seems especially so when our hopes are closely connected to what we believe about God and God’s ways with us. Maybe there’s something you’ve prayed about for a long time. Maybe there’s someone you’ve prayed for year after year. And maybe, for some reason, you’re hope is gone. Your prayers now seem wasted, even foolish.       

In Mark 5 a man named Jairus begged Jesus to come and heal his little girl. Jesus agreed to go with him – but on the way there two servants intercepted them and broke the news to Jairus. Your daughter is dead. And then they added this line: “Why bother the teacher any further?” (Mk. 5:35)

But Jesus invited Jairus to finish the walk. To stay with him. No doubt, Jairus walked with a heavy step – but at the end of that walk he saw a miracle. On the Emmaus road two disciples walked with heavy steps, not knowing who walked with them. At the end of that walk their eyes were opened.

And you - when your way is weighed-down, heavy with regrets or hurts over what might have been, you do not walk alone. Jesus draws near and walks with you.

Don’t let your disappointments define your journey today. 


Give your grace, O God, to all who walk in a fog of despondency today. Sustain them in the heaviness of their walk. And give them eyes to see again the reality of resurrection, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.