Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A God of compassion and tolerance (Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent, John 5:1-16)

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

* * * * * * * *

Jesus cures a sick man on the Sabbath and incurs the ire of the scribes and Pharisees. To make matters worse, he calls God his Father—a blasphemy for the Jews. They had gotten so stuck in their ways that they simply refused to accept the possibility that God could choose to act in ways that were new, and to reveal himself in ways they least expected.

Their religion had become so stultified that they could not even recognize Jesus’ pity and compassion for the sick man as a clear sign that God himself was at work.

The scribes and the Pharisees thought they had God all figured out and tucked away in a neat and tidy box that there could be no other possible way by which God could show himself. This is a very real danger for many religious individuals. There is a thin line that separates religion from fanaticism.

Fanatics are persons who believe they know God’s mind completely and have got him all figured out. They see themselves as possessing the fullness of truth and everyone else, especially those with whom they don’t agree, as lesser human beings.

It’s a very real danger, and one against which we should all be on guard. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of compassion and tolerance. People who think they have God all figured out show a completely different image of God--one that can lead not only to bigotry and intolerance, but persecution and oppression as well.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)