Sermon preached 5.22.22 Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
The first time I sat down to read this Gospel story I was instantly brought back to seminary days at Epsicopal Divinity School at Cambridge. You see, much of the formation at EDS is about focusing on the margins. Thinking about those who were and are marginalized. Wondering how scripture might impact folks, or be told differently by those who are cast to the edges of society. In each of our bible based courses we paid particular attention to the ways in which these healing stories can impact modern readers who may, as in today’s case, find themselves blind, lame, paralyzed…
I was reminded this week of the importance for us to remember that in this ancient context there was the belief that these physical “ailments” would have happened due to spiritual wrong doing either by the person or someone in the generation above them. Punishment for sin if you will. Today though, we believe this simply is not true. We also know today that it is important to name folks who are blind, lame, paralyzed as fully whole and human and who do not need to change to be made whole. It is the status quo of the world that needs to change in order for us all to be transformed and healed.
And so, that was on my mind as I went about my week researching, praying on, and pondering this story. It is these ideas that I was holding in my heart that helped me to enter into this story in a bit of a different way. So, that is where I was while I happened to be listening to one of my new favorite podcasts: “Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff”. This podcast created by trans feminist activist and writer, Margaret Killjoy, inspires listeners through stories of revolts and revolutions led by those who had the heart and courage to stand up and fight against oppression. Now, there is some spicy language and it is still really worth a listen.
Over the last few weeks it has really helped me to think about history or stories I thought I knew in a different way. So far I have learned more about: the Haymarket Affair that lead to the eight hour work day, The Jane Collective who worked to provide direct action abortion access, and the Civil War within the Civil War which names the truth that the south was never really unified and there were many, especially Black folks like Rose and Pringle or Abraham Galloway, within the south working to pull the Confederacy apart. I find that these powerful stories have invited me to think creatively about fighting oppression, and perhaps more importantly, to let go of my perceptions of the right way forward. To turn away from what I might assume, and somehow trust that in doing so I, we, will get to pick up our mats and walk away transformed. I don’t even have to know the way. Afterall, the man who is healed is explaining to Jesus why he can’t get into the pool when he is simply healed. He thought the way forward was one particular way, and yet, it was not that way at all and he was still healed and transformed.
So what about this man who is healed by Jesus? First, I must share with you that the remains of a pool with five porticos have indeed been discovered (JANT, 167). We have archaeological evidence that helps us to really see this story unfolding. We also know that the “sheep gate” reference is the very gate to the Temple precinct (JANT, 167), which feels like a rather pointed detail.
Jesus starts the conversation by asking if the man wants healing. The man doesn’t seem to know who Jesus is by way of his response, naming he needs help getting into the pool, but has no one, another way in which he is marginalized. Jesus commands the man to get up and walk, and without questioning it, because perhaps he knows he is healed… he does! (GBC, 168). The needs of the man are met immediately when Jesus sees what they are and the man is open to believing (TBC, 343). And as he walks away we are reminded that, “… those who receive new life must also accept a transformed lifestyle” (TBC, 343). Hmm…. to live a transformed lifestyle as ones who say yes to Jesus.
This story also becomes an account of the conflict of Jesus exercising his ministry on the sabbath. We have later rabbinic texts that teach that healing of acute illness is required, but chronic illness would still be prohibited, because after all, they’ve been sick for a while and can be healed later (JANT, 168). The ancient Hebrews and Jesus find themselves at odds in regards to what can or should be done on the sabbath because they have different ideas about what God is up to or about (SPJ, 167). What ideas or ways of being might I be holding on to that I should let go of? What “should” be done according to the status quo versus what can be accomplished in regards to bringing about the kin-dom of God right now?
This week, maybe because of this story, this week’s Civil War episode of the podcast, or maybe even the televised hatred and violence against people of color I started to think about how we might need healing. It did not take me long to think about the long line of inherited sins like racism. The places where we are called to the margins to fight against oppression. The places we are called to let go of our perceptions about how things should go so that we might be transformed and healed.
Because those are the very places we are clearly called to.
I am reminded of a notion a clergy friend from seminary recently shared with me upon reflecting on the scripture that you don’t put new wine into old wineskins. We can’t put new, or more pointedly ways that diverge from the status quo, more just ways of being community and respecting the dignity of every human, into the framework of the status quo. We must change the framework. We must disrupt the narrative and let go. Just like the heroes who stood up to oppression that I have been learning about in “Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff”. Just as Jesus stopped the man from yet again trying to get into the pool… we must stop repeating the same old ways of trying to work and live in the world so that we can actually be part of realizing God’s kin-dom in the world right now just as it is.
So then, how do we need to put aside our perceived ways of healing, moving forward and take up the radical act of following Jesus to the margins? What will it look like when we walk away from the things that are holding us back, the status quo, keeping us from God, distracting us from the possibility of what could be? How will we pick up our mats and walk?
Resources: Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff (podcast), Jewish Annotated New Testament, Sacra Pagina- John, Theological Bible Commentary