The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…
HE SUNDAY Of the Paralytic is the Fourth Sunday of Pascha in the Eastern Rite. We replace the RCL Gospel this Sunday with the story of the man at the pool of the Five Porticoes. You know: every once in a while the Angle of God would stir the waters and the first person into the pool would be healed.
To this text we have also a healing in the Book of Acts and a reminder that as Jesus laid down his life for us, we should lay down our lives for each other.
On Wednesday this week we celebrate the feast of Mid-Pentecost, and all things turn to images of water and teaching. This was a time of preparing folks for Baptism (as it is, even today). And the liturgical cycle brings that home to us. And so, if Wednesday we turn to water and baptism, what does it mean that today we have an image of a man unable to get into the water – but Jesus heals him anyway?
John Wesley offers us an image of God drawing people to his table in all cases – through Baptism, of course, but also through the most common Holy Mystery, the weekly table fellowship of the Christian community. Wesley realises that someone may be most directly drawn to Jesus here at communion – and who are we to deny them?
And while I was thinking about this, I found myself wondering, suddenly, does the Johannine community Baptised at all? I realised the Gospel of John has no Baptism story! In fact, Jesus rather pointedly walks past John the Baptist and says nothing to him. John sees Jesus and says, “look there is the lamb of God” and even testifies, “I saw the Holy Spirit descend on him”. But John never (in this Gospel) baptises him. And later, (in John 4) we are told Jesus didn’t baptise any other folks.
So I’m wondering if the Johannine Community had a baptism at all (although it’s clear they had foot-washing).
Our community welcomes people to communion when God calls them – which he may do at anytime, when they walk through the door. Even prior to their baptism.
But, we don’t do it because we believe the Bread and the Wine at the altar are only symbols that are powerless as such. “I believe and I confess” says the liturgy, “that you are the Christ… and this truly is your own most pure Body and this truly is your own precious blood.” I am terrified to draw near to the presence of my God. But I do so out of Faith and Love for him, present here, among us and in us, and with us. If he is calling you, then come – you may have had no one to dip you in the pool, but Jesus will hear your prayers and make you whole anyway.
This isn’t cheap grace, however: it’s free, but not cheap. God’s love is offered to you, but as with all true lovers, he will call a response out of you, a return gift: not required, but real, none the less.
Look at the Epistle: Jesus expects us to lay our lives down for each other – as he lays his life down for us! And it won’t be easy – for just as in the Book of Acts, the Religious and Political leaders found the followers of Jesus suspect, so will they find you suspect. If God is calling you to this table, it is a life of subversion of the dominant social order, it is a life of open revolution against the authority of the state and “respected” authorities that you are being called to. God won’t let you sleep any more if there is anyone hungry and you still have a crumb left on your plate. God will not let you go if there are naked people and you have extra shirts in your closet. And if your bread gets mouldy in the cupboard, God will ask you why you wasted the food of the poor.
But that calling, that love is Free.
And if you can’t get into the pool, Jesus will still give you himself and heal you.
But you’ve got work to do afterward.