Thursday, February 12, 2009


“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

                        John 5.7 

Stranded on the Edge

When feeling led toward a post that speaks to everyone yet pointedly resonates with GLBT and other alienated Christians, I’m often led to scriptural stories like today’s. These stories are problematic for me because they’re about outcasts—lepers, pagans, eunuchs, sinners, and other “types” stranded on the edge of society. I don’t doubt why the Bible is riddled with them. Its heart pounds with assurance that God welcomes the rejected, despised, and afflicted, all of whom Jesus voluntarily became to ensure acceptance for all through the cross. Yet I’m always wary lest frequently returning to outcast stories be misconstrued as an opinion that ostracized gay believers and their straight counterparts are damaged or dysfunctional. Then I take comfort in realizing we’re all--gay or straight, accepted or ignored--damaged and dysfunctional in some way. We’re all the same, outsiders all, stranded on the edge just like the invalid in John 5.


He’s been paralyzed for 38 years and a longtime fixture at the Bethesda pool, where many disabled people gather in hopes of being healed. It’s said an angel appears once each season to stir the water and the first person diving into the pool is cured. The Bethesda phenomenon is no urban legend. The invalid’s seen it a number of times. He tells Jesus this when the Lord talks with him during a Sabbath poolside visit. Learning the man’s been disabled nearly four decades, Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?”

Anyone aware of Jesus, His compassion for the diseased and oppressed, and His miraculous power would instantly reply, “Yes! I want to get well!” Spending all of his time watching the water, waiting for the tiniest quaver, renders the invalid clueless about Who stands before him, however. Ignorantly, if respectfully, he launches a woe-is-me alibi without answering the question. “Sir, I’m stuck without help,” he explains. “When the water moves, I’m trying to get in when somebody else beats me to it.” But ignorance never offends Jesus, nor does He ever confuse it with indolence—lazy resignation to one’s condition. He commands the invalid: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” It’s the happiest day of the man’s life. Yet, given the day, his healing makes a lot of people very unhappy.

Floating, Flouting, and Flaunting

It’s the Sabbath. And here’s the invalid, up and about for the first time in 38 years, floating on a joy-cloud, totally oblivious to the mat rolled up on his back. People don’t know his story. All they see is someone flouting tradition. “It’s against the Law to carry your mat on the Lord’s Day!” they tell him. Again, he has an excuse: “The man who cured me said I could do it.” And who is he? The invalid has no idea. Now it looks like he’s flaunting his healing, refusing to comply on another’s authority. On one level, he’s justified; Jesus habitually broke Sabbath law by attending to urgent matters. Yet he’s also wrong. Why even carry a mat he no longer needs? Hanging onto it only causes problems for him. And why rush off before getting his Healer’s name? Didn’t it occur to him he owes Christ praise for his healing? Later, Jesus meets the man in the temple and sternly scolds him: “Now that you’re well, stop sinning or something worse may happen.” He takes heed and changes his story to glorify Christ.

The invalid gives all of us—gay believers, particularly—an excellent example of what not to do. If we sit too long at poolside, staring at still waters of sanctioned intolerance, hoping they’ll spring to life, we’ll never know Jesus, His love for us, or His life-altering power. Yes, sometimes the pool stirs in obedience to God’s Spirit, welcoming those stranded on the edge. But why wait for help getting in when Christ Himself offers to remedy our situation? He makes us rise and walk. Then, it’s ever important not to float away in exuberance without considering believers who sincerely conform to rigorous ideas and traditions. Romans 14.13 cautions: “Stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” Freedom from the Law doesn’t free us of responsibility for those who keep the Law. We take care our liberty isn’t perceived as flouting long-held beliefs or flaunting our restoration in Christ. There’s no reason for hanging onto mats—mindsets and motives—that cushioned our poolside vigil; they cause needless trouble, potentially leading to setbacks we can ill afford. Finally, we never fail to give our Healer total praise. It’s the least we can do after all He’s done.

The pool at Bethesda.

(Tomorrow: Letters in the Dirt)


FranIAm said...

Mmmmm - this is rich. Thank you Tim.

Tim said...

My pleasure, Fran. This one kept turning up fresh surprises--things I'd never seen before in the story. It never ceases to amaze me how the Word remains new and exciting, no matter how many times you've read it.

Blessings, my sister!

Kedda said...

I loved this: "If we sit too long at poolside, staring at still waters of sanctioned intolerance, hoping they’ll spring to life, we’ll never know Jesus..." This is what I believe also about waiting for a Church to change. Sometimes we've got to get up and go.

genevieve said...

It's so true that we need to give glory to God. We also need to let others know of his mercy and goodness. You're so right about our responsibilities. Have always felt the need to help others.

Tim said...

Kedda, I came to that conclusion a long time ago. We are the Church, the true Body of Christ. It's up to us to decide we want to get well. If we depend on those in charge of the organizations to change things, we'll languish indefinitely beside the pool. There's no sense in that. It occurs to me that instead of waiting for someone to help us, we can help others who are paralyzed by fear and tradition by doing exactly as you say--getting up on our own two feet as Jesus commands.

Thanks so much for your comment. It highlights a truth we must never overlook.

Tim said...

Yes, Genevieve! While overcoming our struggles may cost us dearly, we gain nothing if we achieve it at the expense of others. Simply because God is so merciful and kind to us, we must show mercy and kindness to others--especially those who don't or won't understand our witness. Our Christian claim bears out in the doing, not the telling. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, when people see our good works, they'll glorify the Father.

I'm so glad you stopped by and always grateful for your thoughts.

Davis said...

I spend a lot of time watching the water waiting for that angel.

Tim said...

Davis, we're all watching for the angel. But as Kedda points out, we can get up and go in the meantime. Peace, light, and joy, my brother.

kkryno said...

This really was timely for me as I've been struggling with a bit of mental paralysis lately.

Thanks; Tim for the good, swift kick I've needed to get up off of my tukas(?)and take some action.

Have a great week-end!

Tim said...

We all need a good kick now and then, Vikki! The longer we sit, the easier it is to keep sitting. If we don't rally ourselves to take action, we can lose all sense of time and before you know it, weeks, months, and years fly by without any movement on our part.

There was one of those appallingly OMG news stories a few years back--if you caught it, you'll remember it--about a woman who just sat down one day and refused to get back up. Her kids catered to most, but not all of her needs. (Ick.) When someone finally called the health department, she'd actually grown into the sofa. And she was so morbidly obese, they had to chop out a big hole in her wall to bring in a crane to hoist her onto a truck so they could get her to a hospital and surgically detach her from the couch.

I think about that woman sometimes and wonder what caused her to do this--and why she didn't listen to people who surely must have pleaded with her to get up. And then I think about areas in my life where I've sat down and refused to get up, ignoring all sorts of warnings and reasons telling me I should. Then her self-inflicted paralysis stops looking so unimaginable. I think we all, at one time or another, come dangerously close to getting stuck to our sofas, even though Christ tells us to get up and get going.

I guess all I'm saying with this is a good, swift kick to the tukas (don't know how to spell it either) can never be a bad thing. And when you catch me sinking in the sofa, please, PLEASE kick me with all you've got!

You have a great weekend, too--full of joy and rest and laughter. One of the things I'm kicking myself to get done is make time to catch up with what's going on at your place and a bunch of other blogs I've not got to lately. So look for me!