I have heard this and similar stories told so many times and by so many people that I am forced to share a composite… to our shame.
The girls first met in grade school. They quickly became acquainted and over time became confidants and best friends. It didn’t matter who dressed better or whose family could afford more extravagant vacations; what mattered was their love for each other. This type of friendship lasts throughout a lifetime. My wife Diane shares a similar relationship that in childhood was spent with Barbie Dolls and sleepovers; in adulthood it manifested itself in shopping malls and hospitals. No news is so heartbreaking that it cannot be shared… and in sharing is made just a bit more survivable. That’s the kind of friendship that I am talking about.
But this friendship didn’t last… even into High School; because the Father of one of the girls was a Pastor. One Sunday after the girls attended church the Pastor drove the girl home and saw that her Father was mowing the lawn… on a Sunday. To teach a spiritual lesson he told his daughter that she was no longer to associate with that little girl. The friendship was over… and a little girl grew into a woman who hated and resented the arrogance of Christianity.
In our Gospel passage Jesus approaches a man who has been unable to walk for 38 years. He has joined the crowd of sick and infirm who watched diligently for the water to be stirred. The upwelling of the spring was associated with the touch of angel’s wings and the belief that the person who first touched the water would receive healing power. Jesus quietly asks the man if he wished to be healed. Unaware of who he was talking to he explains that others always reached the stirred water before him. Jesus simply states, “Take up your mat and walk.” Immediately the lame man is healed and Jesus disappears into the crowd.
Now the religious leaders see the man carrying his mat and it is the Sabbath. They accost him for breaking God’s law and he passes the blame onto the one who had instructed him to do so… and had healed him. They ask who this man was and he realizes that he does not know. It is only later; after he sees Jesus in the Temple that he reports to the religious leaders that it was Jesus who had instructed him to break the law. The leaders confront Jesus who does not deny his actions but explains that he has done his Father’s work. The gospel writer reports that this caused them to want to kill Jesus for making himself equal to God.
Diane and I celebrated her birthday by attending a concert series this weekend at “7 Steps Up” (a GEM in our Spring Lake back yard). Seth Glier and Joe Nerney are becoming more than acquaintances to us as we have enjoyed social settings together. Seth’s a Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and he and Joe are both multi-instrumentalists who have tolerated my singing and playing guitar around the fire with friends (even though Seth has to retune his guitar to a standard tuning every time he hands it to me.)
At the concert Seth shared with the crowd an experience he had following the death of his brother Jamie. He told how, following Jamie’s death he refused to console himself with music as he sat alone in his apartment. Suddenly a bird landed on his windowsill, paused and flew away. Then moments later, the bird flew back to his window and perched. His family had referred to his non-verbal autistic brother by the nickname, “Jay Bird.” Seth shared his thought with the audience; “Are we sent signs from the beyond? Or in moments of great loss do we become sensitive to the signs that have constantly been around us?”
I have pondered a similar question regarding the reading and understanding of Scripture. I have heard Christians showering passages of God’s judgment and law upon others and have wondered; do they read the Scriptures just to lift out rules that are used to judge others and to justify their prejudices and intolerance? And yet, in times of great difficulty and brokenness I find solace in the written stories of Jesus.
Maybe God’s love has been there all the while, invisible to us until we begin to see through the lens of kindness.