Sunday’s sermon: Edged Out

do you want to get well

Texts used – Psalm 67 and John 5:1-9 (in sermon text)

  • When I was a kid, there was this recurring segment on Sesame Street. – “One of these things is not like the other”
    • Had a little song that went with it: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which one is not like the other before I finish my song?”
    • Point of the short segment = helping kids with grouping → recognizing things that are similar and things that are dissimilar
      • E.g.s – put up a picture of
        • 3 large circles and 1 small circle
        • A hammer, a saw, a pliers, and a shoe (3 tools, 1 “other”)
      • Certainly made an impact on all of us avid Sesame Street watchers → became a cult classic reference for people of a certain generation J – frequently works its way into conversations
    • This morning, we’re going to engage in our own version of “One of these things is not like the other.” Let’s call it “One of these healings is not like the other.”
  • HEALING #1 – Jairus’ daughter: Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. … [Before they arrived], messengers came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying to Jairus, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the teacher any longer?” … They came to the synagogue leader’s house, and he saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. [Jesus] went in and said to them, “What’s all this commotion and crying about? The child isn’t dead. She’s only sleeping.” They laughed at him, but he threw them all out. Then, taking the child’s parents and his disciples with him, he went to the room where the child was. Taking her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” Suddenly the young woman got up and began to walk around.[1]
  • HEALING #2 – Two blind men at Capernum: As Jesus departed, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Show us mercy, Son of David.” When he came into the house, the blind men approached him. Jesus said to them, “Do you believe I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “It will happen for you just as you have believed.” Their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly warned them, “Make sure nobody knows about this.” But they went out and spread the word about him throughout that whole region.[2]
  • HEALING #3 – Sick man at Bethsaida (today’s Scripture): After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate in the north city wall is a pool with the Aramaic name Bethsaida. It had five covered porches, and a crowd of people who were sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed sat there. A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.[3]
  • “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which one is not like the other before I finish my song?” There are a lot of things about these threehealing stories that are different.
    • Differences
      • All come from different gospels
      • 3 different locations
      • Deal with both men and women, young and old
      • Jesus heals a wide variety of ailments, named and unnamed – even death!
    • But there is something key that is different about one of these healing stories that we just read. Have you figured out which one? Have you figured out what it is? [PAUSE] Let me give you a hint: It’s all about who initiates the healing. The last one – our Gospel reading for this morning, the passage from John about the sick man at the pool at Bethsaida – is the only healing story in which no one first asks Jesus to be healed.
      • 31 total individual healing stories throughout the gospels – all the others involve someone else initiating the healing
        • Some people asking for healing on behalf of someone else
        • Some people approach Jesus themselves
  • But the man in today’s story was just sitting by the side of the healing pool when Jesus strolled right up to him and said, “Do you want to get well?” → a couple of really interesting things about this unique interaction
    • First, man’s reaction is interesting → To us – reading and experiencing this story from the outside – Jesus asked him a simple question: “Do you want to get well?” But his response isn’t the simple “yes” or “no,” nor is it the elated gratitude (“Thank you! Thank you!”) that we expect. His response is a long explanation. It almost seems like he hears Jesus’ question as a bit of a criticism. “Don’t you want to get well? What are you doing sitting here? Why aren’t you getting in the pool? What’s wrong with you?”
      • According to tradition, angels stirred pool at Bethsaida at certain times of the day – getting into the water during those times = healing → In a heavily populated city like Jerusalem, just imagine how busy the pool was during those times of day – everyone struggling and jostling to get into the water.
      • Man’s illness is unnamed, but whatever it was made it impossible for him to get into the water in the midst of all that chaos → been edged out and edged out and edged out so many times, it seems like he’d given up – answer to Jesus’ question (“Do you want to get well?”): “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”[4]
        • Hear defensiveness
        • Hear defeat
        • Hear longing
        • [read expressively]: “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”
    • Interaction is also really interesting because as far as we know, faith has nothing to do with this healing
      • No proof that this man knows anything about who Jesus is
      • No proof of the man’s faith
      • Many of the other healing stories found throughout the gospels include Jesus saying something along the lines of, “Your faith has made you well.” But we find nothing of the sort in this story! In fact, faith isn’t mentioned once. The gospel doesn’t even record anything about the man’s response other than that he picked up his mat and walked away.
        • Did he go on to tell others about his miraculous experience?
        • Did he go on to praise Jesus’ name?
        • Did he even say “thank you”?
        • Or did he simply slip unnoticed into the multitude of people living in Jerusalem at the time?
        • We simply don’t know.
  • And stuck somewhere in between these two observations is where we find the rub – the growing edge – of this little story.
    • We feel for sick man at the side of the pool, don’t we?
      • Feel bad – Why hasn’t anyone helped him into the pool yet? → text tells us he’s been sick for 38 years!
      • Feel a little indignant about all of the other people that have not only passed him by but have edged him out of those healing waters day after day, year after year
        • Sympathize → We’ve all been edged out of something – big or small – that we really wanted.
          • Job/position that you applied for
          • Relationship
          • House that you had your heart set on – outbid
          • Any kind of sport that you played or other kind of competition
            • Story of my senior year in speech: participated in speech all throughout middle/high school → senior year – found the perfect poem: emotional, dramatic, powerful → had it down perfectly by the end of the season (memorized, gestures, etc.) → made it through sub-sections, had great rounds in sections … and didn’t even make it to finals at sections
              • I desperately wanted to go to the state competition. I wanted the excitement. I wanted the validation. I wanted the inclusion because so many of my friends were going. But I was edged out. And being edged out is a bitter and a painful and a lonely experience. We hear all that (and more!) echoed in the man’s response to Jesus’ question, and so our hearts ache for him.
      • At the same time, this story may hold up a bit of an uncomfortable mirror to our lives and our interactions with other people. When have our words or our actions edged someone else out? Out of “the group”? Out of what is supposedly acceptable by society and what is not? We live in a society that values (over-values?) the self-made person – someone who’s worked their way from the bottom up, scraped and saved and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. We say we value equality. It’s even in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And yet we live in a world in which …
        • Actually debating on the floor of various state governments who can use the bathroom and who can’t[5]
        • Women are still paid 70-80% of what men are paid for the exact same job[6]
        • It is a proven fact that if your name sounds like a minority name (be it black, Latino, Arab, or anything more exotic than “John Smith”), your resume is less likely to be accepted, no matter how qualified you are[7]
        • The gap between the minimum wage and a passable living wage continues to grow → Did you know that according to research done by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is not a single state in American in which someone working a minimum wage job can afford a 1-bedroom apartment working 40 hrs. a week and only allotting the recommended 30% of their income to housing?[8] In Minnesota alone, someone working a minimum wage job would have to work 66 hrs. or more a week just to be able to afford housing.
          • Places like California, Washington D.C., and Hawaii, that number is either closer to or even well over 100 hrs. a week → do the math: that’s 14+ hr. days, 7 days a week!!
  • In the face of this gospel story, we have to recognize those ways in which we may be edging other people out as well, be it inadvertently or intentionally.
    • Ps reminds us this morning again and again of the inclusion that we find in God’s love: Let God grant us grace and bless us; let God make his face shine on us, so that your way becomes known on earth, so that your salvation becomes known among all the nations. Let the people thank you, God! Let all the people thank you! Let the people celebrate and shout with joy because you judge the nations fairly and guide all nations on the earth. Let the people thank you, God! Let all the people thank you! The earth has yielded its harvest. God blesses us—our God blesses us! Let God continue to bless us; let the far ends of the earth honor [God].[9] → All the nations. All the peoples. Let the far ends of the earth honor God.
    • Scholar described today’s gospel story this way: This is a healing story, but also it is a story of Jesus’ radical hospitality. Jesus heals a person who does not have faith, who knows deeply suffering and pain. This person has lived in his own world, his own prison that no one can reach into except Jesus. … Unlike other seekers, this man does not seek out Jesus. For thirty-eight years, without any family or friends, he has been alone. His lack of knowledge and his powerlessness prohibit him from looking for Jesus. However, Jesus comes to this man first.[10]
      • Speak to God’s ability to see into the core of our need whether we are able to articulate that need to God or not → man didn’t approach Jesus, Jesus approached him, knowing full well that the man needed to be healed – body and soul
        • This is both the challenge and the comfort that we find in our gospel story this morning. Yes, there are times in our lives when we are desperately in need of that healing – body, mind, or soul – and in the midst of that desperation, Jesus sees us. Jesus recognizes us and knows our need. And Jesus comes to us asking the simple question: Do you want to get well? But there are also times in our lives when we need to stop, to look around, to open our eyes to the people around us who may be even more desperate … even more in need … even more broken down than we feel. And instead of using those moments to our advantage – for our own leg up – we need to follow Jesus’ example of radical hospitality. Make a space at the pool. Make a way. Amen.

[1] Mk 5:22-24a, 35, 38-42a.

[2] Mt 9:27-31.

[3] Jn 5:1-9.

[4] Jn 5:7.

[5] Paul Heroux. “Bathroom Bill Myths and Facts” from The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/bathroom-bill-myths–fact_b_9814092.html. Posted Apr. 30, 2016, accessed May 1, 2016.

[6] Eileen Patten. “On Equal Pay day, key facts about the gender pay gap” from the Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/14/on-equal-pay-day-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-gender-pay-gap/. Posted Apr. 15, 2015, accessed May 1, 2016.

[7] Jacqueline Howard. “New Study Confirms Depressing Truth About Names and Racial Bias” from The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-sounding-names-study_us_561697a5e4b0dbb8000d687f. Posted Oct. 8, 2015, accessed May 1, 2016.

[8] “Out of Reach” initiative, from the National Low Income Housing Coalition website: http://nlihc.org/oor.

[9] Ps 67.

[10] Choi Hee An. “Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 5:1-9” in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary – Year C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 229.

 

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