February 6, 2022 – Official’s Son is Healed
Acknowledging the Territory
We take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people, and we commit ourselves to live out this acknowledgment in our words and actions.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As the light of Christ Candle begins to glow this morning, let it warm your hearts and fill your life with the light of Christ so that it overflows to others.
Call to Worship * based on material written by John Birch
For those whose lives are broken and shattered
May the God of healing restore us
For those whose lives are broken by fear
May the God of healing restore us
For those whose lives are broken by anger
May the God of healing restore us
For those whose lives are broken by pain
May the God of healing restore us
For those whose lives are broken by illness
May the God of healing restore us
For those whose lives are broken by the complexity and challenges of ordinary life
May the God of healing restore us
God of healing we come to you seeking your healing and health in our broken lives and our broken world.
And this is why we gather in worship.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Source of all health and healing, as we gather here today, we bring to you all our worries, concerns, fears, regrets and wrong-doing, seeking your compassion. In our self-imposed busyness and petty obsessions, we need to take the time to sit with you and listen for your words of comfort, forgiveness and challenge. Open us to recognize and accept your offer of healing, hope and guidance, not just for ourselves, but for all of creation. Amen
Gift of Music O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing #326
Scripture Readings John 4:46-54, John 5:1-18
Our scripture this morning continues where we left off last week. Following his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus remained in Samaria for two day and then continues on to Galilee, where he came to village of Cana. It is here that John begins to tell his stories of how Jesus healed those who were sick.
[Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. This was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When 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?” The 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.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
Two Kinds of Healing
Our scripture reading today deals with two very different stories of healing, neither of which appears anywhere in the Revised Common Lectionary that is used in most churches. Although there are similar stories in the other gospels, there are elements in both of these stories that are unique to the Gospel According to John.
When read together, these two stories offer a distinct contrast. The first is a story of profound faith in the most unexpected of places. The second story has no real indication of any kind of faith at all.
In the first story a royal official, travels from Capernaum to Cana, likely a distance of around 40 km, to find Jesus. He has obviously heard that Jesus is a healer and he begs Jesus to come back with him to Capernaum to heal his son who is gravely ill. Jesus’ response to the man seems very cold. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Yet despite the response he receives, the official again begs Jesus to come with him.
How many of us, facing the serious illness or perhaps even death of a child would not do everything we could to save our child? It is likely that this man had already accessed every possible medical option available to him. He was a man of importance with significant social status, so all possible options would likely have been available to him. Yet nothing had worked. And so, in total desperation and likely as a last resort, the official seeks out a healer he has heard about but has almost certainly never met.
Yet despite his fervent pleas, Jesus does not accompany the man back to his home. Instead, he simply looks at him and says, “Go; your son will live.”
There is a story in the Hebrew Scriptures of an important military official who seeks out Elijah asking to be healed. Elijah does not even go out to meet the man but simply send word though a servant telling the official to go and wash in Jordon River seven times. The official is furious, feeling slighted that Elijah would not even speak to him in person.
If we are honest, this is the kind of response most of us would most likely expect. The official has begged Jesus to come with him, but Jesus simply responds, “Go; your son will live.” He has not seen the boy nor has he offered any kind of herb or medication. He has not told the father that what he must do in order to make the boy well. Instead, he has simply said, “Go; your son will live.”
The most astonishing thing in this entire story is that we are told that, the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. This man does not question Jesus or express any doubt or uncertainty. He simply accepts what Jesus has said and starts for home. And just to confirm his faith, he is met part way home by his servants who tell him that boy is fine.
Perhaps simply as a concerned parent or perhaps to confirm for himself that it truly was because of Jesus that the boy was healed, the father asks the servants what time the boy recovered. It was the exact time that Jesus had spoken. As a result, we are told that not only the official, but his entire family, believed in Jesus.
Being willing to trust and believe in the middle of a crisis that seems to have no way out or no clear ending can be extremely difficult. As many of us know, especially in our current pandemic reality, being caught in the middle, living in the unknown and feeling helpless to do anything to change the situation can be one of the worst experiences of life. It can seem completely overwhelming. It is hard to trust, to have faith and to move forward in such a situation. But that is exactly what this man does. He trusts what Jesus has promised and he moves forward.
The healing at the pool in Bethzatha or as it is more commonly known Bethesda, is very different. This pool, located just inside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem was intended as large ritual bath in which travellers, entering the city, could be purified as was required by Jewish law. There is however, no historic or archeological evidence that it was ever a place of ritual healing.
Yet for whatever reason, the man in this story is obsessed with the idea that if he could just get into the pool when the waters first start to stir, in other words when the gates of the reservoir were opened and fresh water rushed in, he would be healed. We have no idea why he believed this or where the belief came from. Perhaps it was simply of ritual bathing washing away not only dirt, but sin.
Regardless, when Jesus sees the man lying there, he asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man doesn’t actually answer the question directly. Instead, he basically says, how am I supposed to be healed if I can’t get into the pool in time? Jesus ignores this and says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
Unlike so many other biblical stories of healing, Jesus never askes the man if he believes. There is no promise of sins forgiven or rewards for faith. Jesus simply says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk”. And the man does.
But it is what happens next in this story that is most interesting. Some of the Jews who see the man carrying his mat get angry. “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
Now you might think that this man who had been healed after so many years would have been grateful and would have told everyone about the amazing man who had healed him regardless of what day it was. You might think he would immediately become a follower of Jesus. But instead, when he is accused of breaking the Sabbath laws, he appears to blame Jesus. “The man who healed me told me to pick up my mat!”
We are also told that later, Jesus finds the man in the temple. The man did not search out Jesus to express his gratitude or express any kind of faith. Instead, it is Jesus who seeks him out, and Jesus warns him, “sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”
What does the man do in return? He goes to the Jewish authorities and tells them, “I found out who the man was that healed me and told me pick up my mat. He’s the one that made me break the law, and his name is Jesus.” According to John, it is because of what this man said that the temple authorities began to persecute Jesus, because he had willfully broken the Sabbath laws.
Now it is true that with so little actual information in this story, there could be many ways to interpret it. The possible interpretation I have just offered is not what we want to hear. We want those stories where faith leads to healing and doubt or mistrust does not. We want to a correlation between what a person does or what a person believes and the consequences of that action, positive or negative.
But this story doesn’t fit that pattern. The good and faithful are supposed to be healed and the unbelievers aren’t. But this is a messy story that challenges us to set aside our assumptions. It challenges us to ask why one person is healed and another is not. It challenges us to ask why the consequences don’t always match the actions.
Yet in this way, this story is perhaps much more true-to-life than many of the other biblical stories that we do love to hear. We want to believe in a neat pattern of cause and effect. We want to believe that if we have faith, if we do what we believe is right, then everything will be OK. But that is not always the case. Sometimes things just seem so random.
Now I doubt very much that that was actually the point that John was trying to make with his story, but for me at least, this is a very real problem. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes people that we might consider less than worthy, seem to prosper.
But there is on thing more that I see in this story and it is this that gives me hope. After this man reports Jesus to the temple authorities, we are told that Jesus finds him in the temple and speaks to him.
And what does Jesus say to him? “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”
This man has been given a second chance at life. He has been healed of his physical ailment and allowed to walk again. But he does not seem to respond to this gift with faith or gratitude. Instead, he reports Jesus to the official for healing on the Sabbath. Now you might think this would be the end of the story and that Jesus would simply walk away and give up on the man. But this is not what happens. Jesus seeks the man out and takes the time to speak to him.
Not only did Jesus offer this man a second chance, by healing him and allowing him to walk, but now he offers him a third chance. “Look, you have been blessed by being touched by the Divine, by being healed. Don’t waste it by doing things that distance you from God and alienating you from the Divine. If you do, there will be consequences.”
We need to remember that the very definition of sin is alienation from the Divine. When this man is told to go and sin no more, he is being challenged to accept the healing God offers, not just physical, but spiritual.
For me, this is where the good news comes into this story. It is not just that Jesus offer healing, freely and with no strings attached. It is also that, in those times when we don’t recognize that gift, those times we ignore or do not appreciate the blessings we have been given, God continues to offer us new chances to recognize and draw closer to that Divine mystery we struggle so hard to understand.
I think that sometimes we are like that royal official, holding tightly and adamantly to our faith, willing to trust even when everything seems to be going wrong and even when nothing we do seems to make a difference. But I also think that sometimes we are like that man at the Pool of Bethzatha, unable to recognize or appreciate the blessing we have been given.
For me, the good news here is, that regardless of whether of faith is strong and sure or whether we are filled with uncertainty and doubt, failing to recognize the blessings all around us, the Divine doesn’t give up on us. If we miss one opportunity, if we fail to recognize the touch of Divine Grace in our lives, it’s not the end.
The Divine Mystery that we call God continues to seek us out offering us new opportunities and new blessing. It’s never to late to accept and believe. It’s never to late to offer our thanks, our praise and our devotion, committing ourselves to trust and follow. Amen
Gift of Music We Cannot Measure How You Heal #613
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are once again reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. As we gather online, I ask you to think about what it is that you have to offer to God and to others this day. If you choose to offer a financial gift to assist this church you can do so by placing an envelope in the mail slot to the left of the courtyard door, by donating online or by arranging for monthly donations to be made through pre-authorized remittance. But we also need to remember that the gifts of our time, our talents, and our abilities are just as important. So, let us take a moment now to ask God to bless whatever gifts we offer today.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as we think about all the many gifts and blessings that we have received from you, we ask that your spirit will continue to bless us and that, through the gifts we offer today, your spirit may reach out to touch and bless others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment of silence, to offer our own personal prayers for the people and the situations that are in our hearts and on our minds this morning.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine One, we come before you in prayer aware of our deep need for healing and of your Divine offer of health and wholeness. Our bodies, minds and spirits are often hurting and broken by the violence, illness, traumas and the cares of this world that separate us from you. We come seeking your healing power.
We think of all those who struggle with physical pain, illness and disease. We ask that your life-giving Spirit will touch, strengthen and sustain all those who seek to alleviate the pain and suffering of this world. Give strength, courage, wisdom and perseverance to all doctors and nurses, orderlies and clerks, psychiatrists, researchers, and all other medical care givers, professional or volunteer…
Be with those who work to heal the wounds, not of individuals, but of societies and nations. Guide and direct the lawyers and police, chaplains and pastors, social workers, politicians, diplomats, military officials and all others who establish and enforce policies that work to build structures of stability and justice…
Be with those who challenge the injustice and inequalities in our world and who work to mend and renew what is broken in our relationships with one another, with creation and with you. Give clarity, understanding, determination, strength and ongoing hope to social justice workers, to environmental activists, to political and social advisors and advocates, and to all who continue to work for social and economic reform, calling on all of us to build a more just and equitable world…
Be with us, as individuals and as a church, as we seek to find and to follow your call to us to help heal your creation thorough our own effort to live in justice, equality, peace and love. We ask all this in the name of the one who came to offer us your gift of hope and healing, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Closing Hymn Your Hands, O Christ #622
So now we go out from here into an amazing, complicated world that is often full of pain, but which is also full of astonishing grace and healing. We go trusting that the one who calls us out into the world goes with us and that each step of the way we will be directed, accompanies and loves. We go, with God.