Acts 16:9-15 • Psalm 67 • Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 • John 5:1-9
This week's reading from John 5 is set in the temple in Jerusalem, where a small pool of still water in a side porch is the stage. Occasionally the water in the pool gets stirred up; and in these moments it has healing powers. Around the pool are gathered many invalids, hoping for a chance to get in while the water was agitated. The problem was the capriciousness of the healing moments and the need to move fast once the water was bubbling.
Into this scene enters Jesus, who brings healing powers without caprice. Even Jesus, though, recognizes the limits of a healer. He sees a man who has been waiting poolside for a long time – some versions of the text say 38 years! – to be healed. He asks him a salient question: Do you want to be made well?
In the story, the sick man tells Jesus that he has no one to put him in the pool. This does not mean that he had no one. Others, probably family members, must have been feeding him and generally caring for him. Over 38 years, though, it seems they had grown tired of the healing-pool routine. Maybe they had needed to go to work instead of continuing to wait for a magic moment. Perhaps they had also begun wondering whether the man wanted to be made well. Whatever their thinking, they were acting in a way that was responsible to him, but not responsible for his getting well.
Jesus' question to the sick man was another way of acknowledging that he was willing to be responsible to, but not for, him. He gave the man his own responsibility for self, telling him in an almost offhanded manner to stand up, pick up his mat, and go on his way. And he does! Perhaps no one was more surprised than he.
Each of us has a responsibility to care for our self, attending to whatever physical and emotional limitations are present within to the best of one's ability, accepting help graciously as needed. It is easy to get discouraged, easy to blame others or circumstances for one's plight. It is not that one wishes to be unwell. But, being unwell has its advantages in coming with less responsibility. Others seem only too happy to take responsibility for a person; and in some strange arrangement, everyone is getting something out of the unwellness. It is as though the unwell person stabilizes the group, giving it something to focus on. Over time, the unwell person may simply quit trying. After all, if the unwell person gets better, then what will the rest of the group do with itself?
Groups do not manage change well, even positive change. None of us do. The bubbling waters in a previously still pool of water are frightening; something is different, and anything different may upset the careful balance of our world. Even when a hoped-for change occurs, before long, things are often soon back to normal – the process has remained the same.
If one is trying to change oneself, it is useful to remember that others may be uncomfortable with any difference in one's functioning. If one is trying to respond to a change in anything at work or at home, it may be useful to pay careful attention to one's own reaction. In either case, staying calm but firm in standing up, picking up one's mat and walking ahead towards one's own future while remaining connected to others is the goal.
Revelation 21:23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
What am I trying to change in myself today? Where are my chances to practice? Where is change occurring in my world? How can I stay calm when things change around me?
When did I observe change in my world today? What was my part in it?