Friday, April 08, 2011

I'm not going to explain why I'm carrying my mat.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“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.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

This is a tough passage to read for me, Jesus statement about 'Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.' raises a lot of questions in my mind that normally distracts me from seeing other things in the passage.

I think the man's response to Jesus question 'Do you want to get well?' is very telling. For the man, healing means getting into the pool when the water is stirred (first person in gets the miracle! See John 5:4). He's been paralyzed for 38 years, and for much of that time he has been lying by the pool on his mat trying to get into the water to win the race for the healing. He has a set expectation for how God will bring healing into his life. The pool. Maybe he imagined that Jesus would offer to help him into the water.

Instead healing comes in a completely unexpected form. 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.'

After years of lying down paralyzed the fact that the man can walk at all is a sign of healing, having the strength to also carry his mat is further confirmation of the miracle.

Carrying his mat meant that he lost his place by the pool. If he'd left his mat behind he could have reserved his spot so he had somewhere to go if this 'healing thing' didn't work out for him. His mat defined his world, and Jesus encourages him to take his mat with him...and break the law.

I identify with this man. I can think of situations in my life where I am convinced I know how Jesus will bring healing and change. I tell God what healing should look like for me, and even how he should accomplish it in my life. I need to keep remembering that God is bigger than the box I put God in. I mustn't get so attached to my mat that I am unwilling to roll it up and carry it. Sometimes the very things I put in place for my own comfort and protection can become barriers.

To the Jewish Leaders the mat was a sign of a Sabbath breaker, something forbidden. They don't care about the miracle in this man's life...all they see is the mat. There is no acknowledgement of the journey that has led to the mat being carried through the city streets. The idea that this act of lawbreaking could stem from an encounter with God seems unthinkable.

I don't need to explain to everyone who asks why I'm carrying my mat. Often the people who ask are unable to hear the answer, the story of my encounter falls on deaf ears. Jesus asked me to do what I thought was unthinkable, to take up my mat and walk. I'll leave the explaining to others. I have some walking to do.

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