After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
This guy who is healed by Jesus in this text really annoys me. What a lousy whiner. Thirty-eight years he’s been lying there by this pool waiting to be healed. That’s not patience, that’s a life-style.
When Jesus comes along and sees him there and asks him if he wants to be healed, you’d think this guy would be excited. But he doesn’t say yes, he just makes excuses for why he hasn’t been healed yet. The myth was that when the water get stirred up by an angel, the first one in supposedly gets healed. This guy just whines to Jesus that someone always gets there ahead of him. You mean to tell me that after 38 years he can’t figure out a way to get in the water faster? C’mon! Lie at the edge of the pool and just roll in. Do something!
But Jesus heals him anyway. And later, when the religious authorities get after this guy for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, which, according to the law, is considered breaking the Sabbath, he blames Jesus, “That guy told me to do it.”
“What guy?” They ask. “I don’t know.”
He’s sick for 38 years, someone has the compassion to heal him in an instant, and this guy doesn’t even find out who did it? Instead of standing up for Jesus, he blames him for getting caught working on the Sabbath.
A little after that, Jesus finds the guy again and introduces himself. Still no thanks or appreciation. No, this guy runs back to the Jewish authorities and throws Jesus under the bus. “Remember I told you about that guy to told me to carry my mat on the Sabbath? Well, I found out who he is. His name is Jesus.” And this is what gets the Jewish authorities beginning to plot against Jesus.
This guy is a whiny, spineless, ungrateful, faithless, weasel. And of all the people that were waiting for healing that day, Jesus picks this guy. Of all the people that were waiting by that pool, surely one of them had a bit more character than this guy. Probably any other person there would have at least said “Thank you.” Some might have been become disciples. But Jesus picks this guy. The most undeserving, ungrateful, slime ball of the day. And Jesus heals him.
Sometimes grace is really bothersome. Because that’s what this is. Grace. Regardless of whether he deserves it or not, Jesus shows compassion. Even though this guy sells Jesus out, Jesus shows him care. With grace, a person’s goodness, character, ethics, beliefs, or status aren’t part of the picture. Those things don’t enter into the equation at all. Grace is just grace. For anyone.
Grace has nothing to do with qualifications or deserving. If those enter in, it’s no longer grace.
I saw a video on facebook where a man taped money all over himself, and carried a sign that said, “Take what you need.” The man didn’t ask any questions or find out anyone’s story, he just let anyone take whatever amount of money off him that they wanted. Some admitted they didn’t need it, but just took more. Others grabbed handfuls and ran. A homeless man took a few bills but left most of it for other, he said, who needed it more.
A person walking around giving away money to anyone without question is a picture of grace.
Jesus healing an ungrateful whiner is a picture of grace.
It’ll drive you crazy if you let it. Because if you let any qualifications whatsoever enter into the picture at all, you’ll either get annoyed by grace or you’ll have to disavow it.
Yet this is the God we have. An annoying God of grace. A God who doesn’t care if we deserve it or not. A God for whom our gratitude or ingratitude isn’t influential in any way. A God for whom it doesn’t even register as to whether we’re good or bad, ethical or currupt, faithful or faithless. God who just showers grace. To all. Without question. Without judgement. Without reservation.
We can accept it or not. If we do, it opens our eyes to a pretty amazing God and helps us understand who we are as church. If we don’t , we’ll simply find reasons to reject it.
If we begin with our own worthiness, or even hint at that in the equation, we’ll never appreciate the depths of God’s grace. We’ll find ways to rationalize why we don’t deserve it (or just as bad, justify why we do!). We’ll continually berate ourselves for not being enough, for failing, for incurring God’s anger, for being less than we should be. Or, we’ll falsely prop ourselves up as better, holier, or more righteous than other people. We’ll deny the reality of grace and remain vulnerable to hopelessness or self-righteousness. And we’ll continue judging each other.
But as we learn to accept the reality of God’s unconditional grace, we not only realize that this grace includes the whiny slug at the pool at Bethzatha, it also includes us. It includes you. Without reservation, condition, or question. When we look for grace, we see God with new eyes, and When we look for grace, we see each other without judgement. When we look for grace, we care less about who deserves compassion and simply deliver it. When we look for grace, we’ll reflect less the conditional love of the world, and more of God’s unconditional love.
We can actually become part of God’s grace toward the world, toward each other, even toward the man by the pool at Bethzatha that Jesus chooses to heal. And maybe even toward ourselves.