For those who are most vulnerable today—those at risk of infection due to socio-economic injustices that put them in greater harm’s way and/or age and immune-deficiencies that leave their bodies more compromised to the most severe effects of the COVID-19 virus, particularly in the United States, the disproportionate numbers of people of color whose communities are being ravaged by this disease—John’s text speaks a word of encouragement and hope.
The trouble in American Evangelicalism and in Christianity more broadly, is that standing face-to-face with our Messiah, we find ourselves at a loss of how to serve. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What, beyond the instinctive sense that we are to follow Christ, does it mean to follow? What are we looking for?
In our own world, the Bethesda story reminds us of the fact that social and economic systems meant to assist the needy often keep them in poverty. Our story suggests that the 40 million Americans who live in poverty will need to doubt and challenge the system, and to look for help outside of it. Further, our sermons will need to speak life into death as a reminder that there is life beyond the system.
John’s account of Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples differs from that of the Synoptics in illuminating ways. Through an understanding of the relationship between Jesus’ own commission and that of his disciples, we can gain a richer appreciation of the primary character of our political task.
In Jesus’ acceptance of Mary’s act of devotion, in his ministry to and for the poor, in his unwillingness to betray Judas (even as Judas was soon to betray him), Jesus models for us an approach to poverty, to politics, indeed, to one another that is based not in fear but in hope.
When Jesus clears out the Temple in John 2, he presents a vision for the reformation of God’s house. As questions about guns in churches are raised once again in America, this vision is one to which we must attend.
God is calling us to life in God’s world together. We are to live as those who recognize our Shepherd, who heed and follow Christ’s call.
Real faith knows and embraces doubt and questioning. Rather than locking ourselves in, as the disciples first did, we should learn from the curiosity of Thomas. The opposite of faith is not doubt but fear, and it is time to shed our fears.
In the healing of the blind man in John 9 and the response of the religious leaders and teachers that follows, the power of scapegoating is revealed, as is the assurance that Jesus will overcome it.