In John 5:1-9, we hear the story of Jesus healing on the sabbath. He turns to a man who has been an invalid for decades and asks him if he wants to be healed. The man has his excuses: no one will help him, or people get in his way when he tries to help himself. You and I make these excuses often when we say we want something, but are paralyzed, unable to take action. Jesus response: Pick up your mat and get out of here, out of this role, out of these excuses, out of these choices. It seems to me that the church quickly forgot this message of liberation and empowerment.
This week I was looking at the baptismal promises. The second question is: Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fail into, return to the lord? What is the evil we are promising to resist and why is it so pervasive? If we think about the spiritual culture of Jesus’ time, we hear that sin was both personal, that is, temple managed but the Mosaic tradition of corporate temptation, the call of the prophets, continued also. The gospel writers place Jesus in opposition to the individualistic, class stacked traditions of the temple. They instead locate him with the prophets who call for righteous community, for equality, for mercy.
A story that comes to mind comes from the Exodus when the people were becoming a community called Israel, a people of integrity and liberation. While Moses absents himself in retreat with God, the people lose the vision, forget the dream, abandon the hope. They renew religion, idols, propitiation to their golden calf. Their sin is not idolatry, but lack of faith and steadfastness.
Sometimes I think that the church also falls into this trap of bring more fixed on the structure of the faith than on its practice, which is fairly clearly laid out on Matthew 25. We are called to be healers, encouragers, not judges or legislators. We are called to freedom, from cultural shackles, from personal limitation. We are called to stand up, to get on with works of compassion and messages about life. I think we let fear of making mistakes stop us from getting in the pool. I think we let messages about our personal inadequacies imprison us.
Through his incarnation, Jesus has already shown that being human is not in itself sinful. Sin is not about participating in the evils of the world, so much as letting ourselves get blocked by them. There is evil in the world but it looks like prejudice, violence, oppression, pollution and we are called to fiercely resist these evils whenever we find them. The evil, however, is external. We must not let anything teach us to internalize it.
Let us instead promise that we will keep hope alive in our hearts. We will trust the promises of Jesus. We will believe that the power of the Holy Spirit can and is making all things new. We will know that we are intrinsically good, made in the image and for the pleasure of God. We are beloved and part of God’s own holiness. Let us not get stuck waiting to get in the pool. Let us pick up our mats and get on with it.