To Be Made Well

 

By The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick

Isaiah 62:1-5     Psalm 36:5-10     1 Corinthians 12:1-11            John 2:1-11

Good morning! I am thankful to Fr. Mark for letting me be here with you while he is on retreat at Shrine Mont with the rest of the St. Tim’s family. When he asked me to supply, I said, “Yes!” I knew that it was rare privilege to be back with you for one day. It gives me great peace to be among you even for so short a time. And I’m thankful too, that we get to explore this healing story from John. It’s not one of the best-known gospel stories. But this question from it sticks out to me: “Do you want to be made well?”

It’s a serious question: “Do you want to be made well?” In this election year, we’ve heard lots of questions: “Do you want to be made great?” “Do you want chuck the establishment and be made over?” “Do you want to be made safe?” “Do you want to be made rich?” Even at St. Timothy’s, as you search for a new rector, you might wonder, “Do we want to be made new?” “Do we want to be made comfortable?” But Jesus genuinely wants to know, “Do you want to be made well?”

When Jesus says the word, “well” in Greek, it does mean physical wholeness or health. He wants that for us. And I think that Jesus wants more for us than that. He came not to judge the world, but to save it; he has God’s vision of wholeness and restoration of all creation. God’s had this vision from the moment we fell from grace in the Garden of Eden and has acted to draw us near to him. We hear in today’s psalm a longing for that restoration: “Let your ways be known upon earth,/your saving health among all nations.” This saving health or wholeness is something only God can give us; we experience it by following His way:   This way of life– loving God and neighbor–keeps us close to him.

Now I’ve had a chance to think a lot about God’s vision of salvation and wholeness since January. I’ve been taking a class from our former Presiding Bishop called “Peace-making and Spiritual Discipline.”   It might seem hard to think about peace-making in a world where the goal seems to be to inflict the maximum hurt on each other. But we start with ourselves and our families and work outward. One of the most healing parts of this class has been carpooling there with Fr. Brad who agreed to do this with me. In the car, we talk about everything: about how much we miss you; about how to make peace with “the limitations of our present lives” (Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE); where God might be calling us to stretch ourselves. And in class, we learn how to live lives of wholeness and integrity in a broken world. We learn practical ways to follow Jesus who shows us how to love in the face of violence and keep God’s vision of wholeness in the face of resistance.

In today’s gospel, Jesus models keeping integrity in the face of resistance. He keeps the vision of God’s salvation in front of him; he shows us how to strive toward that wholeness in less than ideal conditions. Jesus is minding his own business, walking through of Bethzatha on the Sabbath. A bunch of homeless people, blind, lame, and paralyzed are lying around in the doorways. There’s even one man who’s been ill for 38 years! And Jesus doesn’t walk past him.  He sees him. He sees from the man’s hunched shoulders that he has long stopped hoping or expecting that these healing waters are going to do anything for him. And Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” Notice the man doesn’t answer his question. Instead, he complains about other people: “Sir, I have no one. No caregiver. No one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. And when I try on my own, it’s always the same. Someone else pushes me aside and steps down ahead of me.” Jesus sees this hurt and insult piled up on top of the man’s physical ailment. Jesus doesn’t say to him, “I’ll come back tomorrow and get you out of here when it’s not the Sabbath. You’ve been sick 38 years. One more day won’t hurt.”   He has the power to heal this man; he doesn’t think this man should have to wait one more minute when the kingdom of God has come near. So Jesus says, “Stand, take up your mat, and walk. “ And the man does.

Now if John had ended things there, it would be a beautiful story: “At once the man was made well. He took up his mat and began to walk.” But instead, John adds this note of dissonance, “Now that day was the Sabbath.” On the Sabbath, God was allowed to work because people were born and died on that day, too. The people had to account for that. But nobody else was allowed to heal, or to pick up bedding, or to bail anyone out if it wasn’t life or death. Jesus is long gone, so the religious authorities say to the man: “You’re not supposed to be carrying that mat.” And the man is silent. What’s he supposed to do? Lie down and pretend he’s still lame for another day? They’d rather he carry his burden of illness than carry that mat because that threatens their order of things. But even they can see what’s done is done and can’t be taken back. So they demand , “Who did this to you?” The man has no idea. Later on, when he’s walking in the temple, Jesus seeks him out and says, “See! You look great! You’ve been made well! Now don’t sin—there are worse things than illness—live a transformed life!”   The man doesn’t embrace and thank Jesus. He just walks back to the authorities and announces that Jesus was the one who healed him. Now Jesus does not quit in disgust when he realizes he’s going to get in trouble. He doesn’t think, “No good deed goes unpunished.” He takes full responsibility for his actions. He says, “Look, I’m not going to apologize for healing on the Sabbath. If my Father’s working, I work.   I’m not out to win votes. I’m doing the will of my Father.” That really makes them mad. The authorities plot to kill him because he’s equating himself with God.

The good news for me in this story is that Jesus doesn’t make us whole because we deserve it; he doesn’t do it because of our great faith or gratitude; he does it because of who he is. Because of his own wholeness and integrity and because he loves us. He believes in us even when we don’t see him for who he is or believe in him.   He knows that conversion is often one step forward, two steps back. He risks everything not knowing if it will make even one iota of difference; he believes in God, that in God all things are possible. And so he lays down his life for us without knowing if we’re fully committed to him. And to me, that’s really good news. He knows that if we can come to believe in him as the one who brings wholeness and life, that our lives will be changed. So he sticks with us, keeps seeking us out, and asking us the question, “Do you want to be made well?” When we, like the sick man, answer with complaints about our neighbors instead of a “yes,” Jesus heals us anyway. He wants us to participate in the healing of the world

and claim God’s vision of restoring all creation. He tells us, “Stand up, take your mats, and follow me.”

So how might we do that? Well, Fr. Brad had some advice for me in the car when I told him about this woman who was getting under my skin at work. I said, “I really wish I could let go of her!” Brad suggested, “In your mind, take her by the hand, lead her up to the throne of God and Jesus, and say, “Here you are.” And then turn, and walk away.”

Living out wholeness in a broken world might look different for each of us.

It might mean showing up and being calm when there’s unpleasant conflict; or going to church when you don’t feel like it. Or getting in trouble for being loving; or doing something kind even if no one will be grateful for it. The more we do these things, the more we are able to live into the salvation that is already ours; the more we become repaired inside and can give back

to the repair of the world. My wish for all of us is that we could see that salvation is already ours. The kingdom of God is near. Jesus is here. So stand up, take your mats, and follow Jesus.

Amen.