When I skimmed this week’s gospel reading from the lectionary, I rolled my eyes a little bit (my mother would be so pleased, quite possibly declaring I was looking for my brains).
Jesus heals the man at the pool.
It was an optional reading, but avoiding difficult texts is a sure-fire way for any clergy person to dive headlong into the shallow end. John 5 it was going to be.
I’ve long had a complicated relationship with the story of Jesus’ healing of the man at the pool. So much teaching revolved around the man playing the part of a victim…of making excuses before God…of not trusting Jesus enough…of being lazy…of not trying hard enough…or of falling into despair.
Hello, Bootstrap Theology.
If someone is somehow unable to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, it’s their own fault. Why this is especially so when it comes to Jesus, I can’t say. It seems like this should be less so when it comes to understanding God’s movement in our lives.
Instead of trying to break the gospel down, I told the story of Anna and Horatio Spafford. Sometimes, facing hard truths becomes more tangible through the story of someone else. These people had faced the deaths of multiple children and were blamed for their own misfortune.
How many of us can relate?
How many of us were taught to never speak of the horrible things in life?
How many of us were taught that the touch of Jesus involved physical transformation and suddenly the whole world was better?
I began to wonder if there were deeper and more wondrous ways to understand the tragic events that befall us as humans. There must be, if healing causes such irreversible ripples in the universe.
What happens, though, when healing brings about more change and more upheaval than the tragedy itself?
Healing is a far more complicated process than we care to discuss. We’d much prefer Jesus to touch us, and then let us be on our merry ways. We often skip the drastic social, relational, and economic tsunamis that come along with healing. We forget that perhaps we are meant to be co-creators with God, partners in the grand scheme of a miracle.
God may dwell at the centre of healing, but we still need to present as expressions of ongoing love. The man at the pool needed friends and family to come around him and help him live into his new life. Anna and Horatio needed new expressions of community to come around them as they wrestled with all that happened to them.
When we begin to accept miracles as communal events in our lives, we begin to understand better why people might be hesitant to accept help or love or support. We begin to acknowledge our deeply flawed humanness, and relinquish the need to blame people for our flustered confusion.
When we begin to accept healing in such ways, both divine and human, we begin to ride the intersections of God’s grace upon our psyches. In those moments, we can say with all honesty that it is truly well with our souls.