There was a man who had mobility issues. He waited by a pool for 38 years with the hope that at some point he might find a source of healing. He waited there because there was a legend about the healing efficacy of those waters. The story is found in John 5:1-17.
Thirty-eight years is half a lifetime. That is almost 4 decades. To put it in context, if this event were to happen today, the man would have been lying by this pool since 1,979.
Along comes a Rabbi who asks him if he would like to be healed.
Notice how the man responds. Certainly, he wants to be healed, but he can’t see how it could be done because he has no-one to put him in the water at the right time.
Jesus’ answer cuts through the impossibilities; he told the man to get up, take his mat and go home. The man obeyed and was healed.
Oh, by the way, John records that it was the Sabbath day when this occurred. As a result, the man got busted for carrying his mat on the Sabbath which was against the established rules of practicing the Jewish religion.
A few thoughts came to me as I read this passage.
First, God does not always choose to work within the boundaries of our established traditions. Traditions can be helpful as a point of reference, but they can also be shackles that keep us from effectively engaging the culture around us. When our tradition ceases being a bridge and becomes a wall, it is longer contributing to the purpose of the church.
The Pharisees built their Sabbath traditions as a safeguard to prevent people from breaking the Fourth Commandment. In building their traditions, they lost sight of the purpose of the command. They lost sight of the “why” in their zeal to determine the “what.”
It is possible for us to also lose sight of the “why.” Think of the use of musical instruments in the church as a case study for this. It was not that long ago that some expressed the opinion that the introduction of guitars and drums into the worship service was a sign of the moral collapse of the church. The “why” of leading people into worship got lost in the “what” of determining which instruments are allowable for this process.
My second observation is the irony that John presents to us in this story. After 38 years of sitting by the pool, someone comes along who actually helps the man and the religious leaders (who were impotent to help the man) get their knickers in a knot because he is carrying a mat. John contrasts the one who actually has the authority and power to do something with the ones that presumed to have them.
As church leaders, we have to constantly keep in mind that Jesus is the one that will build his church. We get to participate with him in that building, but it is not up to us. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, we are powerless to change people; only God can do that. We are merely conduits for the truth of the grace of God as demonstrated by Jesus.
The church should be all about building a bridge so that people can meet Jesus, he is the only one that can ultimately bring the healing that we all so desperately need.