Sunday of the Paralytic
After lying there, almost adaze, observing a man walking onto the porch, his mind rushes back to the deplorable present. "Are you lost?" he asks. "No," Jesus shakes his head, looking around at the beleaguered crowd of people. "What then?" he asks again, "Are you looking for someone?" "Not really," Jesus answers, still surveying the helpless multitude. "Just morbid curiosity, huh?" Jesus turns to look him straight in the eye. The cripple shifts under the stranger's searching glance. "No? Then why are you here? You certainly don't look like you need a miracle."
No answer. Jesus stands in quiet contemplation, his hands clasped loosely in front of him. He ventured out of the temple because the atmosphere inside was suffocating; the stiff, prestigious robes of academia, the pretentious, scholarly paraphernalia dangling from their religious garb the endless and empty debates over Sabbath rules and regulations. Had not they read the revelation of God for themselves? Were they not the experts in the Law?
God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from his work Exodus 31: 15. The severity of the Sabbath traditions - the imposition of laws so crystallized, men had to walk as if on eggshells to keep from breaking them; the restrictions so binding that they cut off the circulation of the Holy Spirit; so oppressive the load could not be borne - this was anything but a rest for the people of God. It was far more like a test - a test that the crude commoners were destined to fail. The interpretation of the Sabbath by the religious elite had perverted the compassionate intent of Almighty God. What He meant to be a blessing, they turned into a curse, for all intentions and purposes, to be avoided.
Perhaps the Scribes and Pharisees were not present when our Lord taught, The scribes and Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers; therefore do everything and observe everything they tell you. But do not follow their example. Their works are bold but their deeds are few. They impose up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on other men's shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honor at banquets and front seats in synagogues, of marks of respect in public and of being called rabbi Matthew 23: 2 - 6.
Perhaps then they would have realized it was far more important to be servants than to be served. While so-called "holy" men in "high" places sat arguing the intricacies of their so called religion and trumpeting their superior understanding, the ignorant, suffering citizens entrusted to their spiritual care were strewn helplessly around a body of water, lifting unholy hands to the heavens, crying out for deliverance, pleading for help, looking to an angel who was nothing more than a phantom of some long forsaken hope. The "living angels" stared at them and never lifted a finger to assist. Not one of the self-acclaimed dignitaries would lift so much as a finger to relieve the burden of these poor souls. They were too concerned with impressing each other with their detailed and expert knowledge. Their long-winded, lofty rants sounded to Jesus like the clinging of noisy cymbals - ringing in his ears with the hollow sound of indifference. He had need to slip away, out into the fresh autumn air, away from the stifling atmosphere in the temple where all that hot air of the leaders' conversations oppressed him, which had hardened within the savage hearts of men who never experienced mercy.
Still searching the eyes of the cripple, Jesus speaks at long last. "Do you want to get well?"
"I cannot, sir." The man wags his head at the futility of the suggestion. The though crossed his mind that this able-bodied man might intend to hoist him up into his arms and heave him into the waters at the first ripple of movement.
Silence. The question hangs in the air between them, begging adequate answer.
"I have no one to carry me into the pool when the angel stirs the water," he hurried to further explain. More silence. Now it is even quieter than before. "Perhaps," he continues, "you are not aware that once the waters are stirred, only the first person into the pool will be healed; someone in better condition than I always gets in ahead of me." He strains unbelievably against the silence, wrestling with a response that offers no answer. "Do you want to get well?" Jesus asks again.
An uneasy frown creases the afflicted man's brow. He could recall that at first all he really wanted was to get well; many years ago. But he had long since established his identity as a victim of renown - the highly acclaimed veteran of disease incurable. He had seniority here, a distinction for no one had occupied the place longer than he. And he knew them all - their diseases, their sins, their shortcomings, their aspirations and their hopes, and their sorrows and frustration - as the initiation of any newcomer just about always found them confessing to each other and to this seasoned sufferer of wisdom.
But he could not admit that to the stranger, so he simply replied, "I am here am I not?" Speaking quietly, but assuredly, Jesus permits to drop from his concerned lips, "Stand up!" The command is almost not understandable. "What?" his eyes open widely with surprise. "Stand up!" as He motions for the lame man to rise to his feet. "Pick up your mat and walk away from this place."
That was the moment he felt it - the searing sensation of strength coursing down his spike and into his legs. It was as if a new surge of energy bolted through him, one which he never felt before. He springs up from the ground, staring down at his legs as if seeing them for the very first time.
"What the...?" he thinks to himself before finally verbalizing it. The neighbors gasp: "What is going on?" "Who is that man?" "What did he say to you?"
More than stunned and bewildered, the man rolls up his sleeping mat, makes his way off that porch near the pool. As he heads into town, trying to determine what he should do, he encounters two rabbis on their way to the temple. "And what do you think you are doing?" begins one of them scolding, stopping him in his tracks.
"I am walking home," The words felt strange on his tongue. Having spent most of his life as an invalid, he had never dared dream he would walk again. Perhaps he and the Healer should have discussed this before. After all, a man might want to count the cost of deliverance before agreeing to it."
"You can't work on the Sabbath, you dithering fool?" the other shouted for everyone to hear. Carrying a load like that is working. Drop that bundle immediately and come with us. And that is how it happened; that is how he had come back into the temple courts to face the council for judgment. "Why were you carrying that big sleeping mat?" The accusation shot from the councilman's lips with unmistakable aim. "The man who healed me told me to." "What do you mean, speaking such nonsense? Explain yourself."
"I have been crippled for thirty-eight years. You know it is true because you have seen me over the years yourselves at the temple gate, begging alms. It is my custom on the Sabbath day to go to the Sheep Gate and wait for the angel to stir the water. But today a stranger appeared among us and He healed me."
"Why you? Why not someone else? You are sinner." The younger official cut in. "I do not know why." He then felt indignation rising in his chest. In the face of deliverance, how could they be so indifferent as to be concerned only about their rules, sensing no triumph in the healing? "Do you think it is possible that the mercy of God is indiscriminate after all?"
"That is enough of your insolence, you simple fool!" Another admonishes, "Perhaps you mean to agree, then, that the love of God is meant for fools, for there is no denying that I have been healed by a power far greater than yours!"
"Get out," the councilman shouts." And when you discover who did this unconscionable deed on a holyday, a time of rest in a place of rest, you are to report back to us immediately. Do you understand?"
"I am afraid I do, he murmurs as he walks away, "You have condemned a man for committing a scandalous act of kindness on a day you yourselves set aside for your own glory but on which our God commands us to be particularly kind by worshipping him."
Once more he exits the temple, this time by the eastern gate, the one they call Beautiful. He pauses under the richly ornamented arches, feasting his eyes on the dazzling Corinthian brass, and then following the terraced platform to the twelve easy steps, once insurmountable to the cripple. This was the holy mound that true-hearted Israelites had ascended for ages, worshiping the Creator of their able bodies, the Sovereign of their noble hopes, the Inspiration for Godly living. Suddenly he feels the unfamiliar stab of conscience. How could he - now an able-bodied Israelite - descend from these same stairs with a false heart ... having failed to acknowledge the compassion of his Sovereign God? Turning again, he stands humbly upon the threshold of new hope - a life restored.
Some people cling to their weaknesses. Staking their reputation on being victimized, they think suffering justifies their bitterness, insolence, and lack of initiative. Yet they gather with those who truly seek deliverance at the wellspring of hope, thinking to conceal their charade. But Jesus sees---and Jesus knows.
Other people oppress those who suffer. Staking their claim to power in the vulnerabilities of the weak, they always appear in religious circles, justifying acts of indifference against the innocent, the unsuspecting and the meek. Wearing the thin veneer of righteousness, they pretend to be defenders of the faith. Yet Jesus sees ... and Jesus knows.
Seizing upon a ripe moment, the Healer moves on behalf of some unworthy soul, because we are all unworthy souls, setting the inevitable confrontation into motion; one man coming to grips with his own sinful heart and one religious movement coming to terms with the heart of the Holy One, the Savior of the World, the Healer of mankind.
And finally, there are those who lie afflicted by the circumstances of life and simply ask the Saviour for the strength to persevere, to remain faithful because He has promised "If you persevere until the end, you will escape death" Matthew 10: 22, you will be saved.