Day 10: Reconciliation with God
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
An angel, by his intervention used to stir the pool at Bethsaida. They who were complaining of ill health used to watch for him; for whoever was the first to descend into the waters, after his washing, ceased to complain…That which used to heal bodily defects now heals the spirit; that which used to work temporal salvation now renews eternally; that which set free but once a year now saves people in a body daily, death being done away through the washing away of sins. The guilt being removed, of course the penalty is removed too.[i]
Tertullian (d. 240), On Baptism
Heavenly Father, we ask you to grant us compassion and mercy. Help us to serve you in all godliness. Give us comfort by your gracious and ready help, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Old Testament Lesson
This passage highlights the necessity of repentance, of turning away from wrongdoing and doing what is right. As in the preceding verses (which we read yesterday), this passage discusses life and death not in a biological sense but in a relational one. To be in a covenant relationship with God means “doing” justice and righteousness. Only then can the exiles have life with God. The exiles, who have been questioning the justice of the exile, are told in no uncertain terms that God wants them to turn and to repent. He wants to be in relationship with them. Thus works of justice and righteousness are essential for maintaining a covenant relationship with God.
20The one who sins, he will die. A son will not bear the wrongdoing of his father and a father will not bear the wrongdoing of his son. The righteousness of the righteous will be upon him alone, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon him alone. 21But, if the wicked turns from all his sin which he has done and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he will certainly live and will not die. 22All his transgressions which he did will not be counted against him; because of his righteousness, which he has done, he will live.
23Do I take great pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the LORD God? Would I not rather he turn from his ways and live? 24Now, when the righteous departs from his righteousness and acts wickedly according to all the abominations that the wicked do, then all his righteous acts which he has done will not be counted for him.
25Yet, you might say, the Lord’s behavior isn’t just. Please listen O house of Israel, Is my behavior unjust? Is not your behavior unjust? 26When the righteous departs from his righteousness and acts wickedly, death will come to him for his wickedness. 27But when the wicked departs from his wickedness which he has done and performs justice and righteousness, he will certainly live. 28Now, if he considers it and turns from all his transgressions which he did, he will surely live, he will not die.
New Testament Lesson
Christians have usually read this text as foreshadowing of the efficacy of Baptism, the Sacrament by which Christians begin a relationship with God.[ii] The man in the story responds in faith to Jesus’ gracious invitation and is healed physically. For Christians, Baptism represents a far greater healing, a spiritual one, which forgives original sin, thus restoring our ability to be in a relationship with God. Jesus incurs the ire of the religious authorities, thus foreshadowing the persecution that will inevitably come to the people of God after Baptism. Jewish Law was not at all clear that carrying around a mat on the Sabbath was prohibited. Thus Jesus continues his polemic against the Jewish leadership for enforcing stringent rules instead of having compassion on those who are suffering.
1After these things, a Feast of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Pool, a place, which (in Aramaic) is called Bethsaida, since it had five covered walkways. 3On these lay a multitude of those who were sick – the blind, lame and paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water, 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain times into the pool, and stirred the water, and whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was cured of whatever disease he had.[iii]
5Now there was a certain man there who had suffered from a disability for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there, and realized how much time had already passed, he said to him: “Do you want to be made well?” 7The disabled man answered him, “Sir, I have no attendant to bring me to the pool when the water is stirred. While I am going, another gets in before me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Rise up, take up your mat and walk!” 9And just then, the man became well. So he took up his mat and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10So the Jewish authorities said to the man who had been healed, “It’s the Sabbath; it’s not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11But he answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12They asked him, “Who is the one who said to you, ‘Take up your mat and walk?’” 13But the healed man didn’t know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away from the crowd in that place. 14After these things, Jesus found him in the Temple and said to him, “See, you have become well, sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15Then the man went out and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who made him well.
Questions for Reflection
- Turning from sin is hard because change is hard. We need God’s help to do it. What persistent habits and sins are you trying to curtail?
- How do you deal with the obvious injustices in the world: children who get sick, poor people who are preyed upon, refugees in war-torn lands? Aren’t these examples of God’s injustices? How do you deal with a God who claims to be sovereign but who permits great evil to exist in the world?
- Why are the righteous hated in our culture? Why is almost anything permissible in our culture except traditional notions of morality?
- Is Jesus unjust for not healing everyone by the pool but only this one man? Does this teach us anything about how we are supposed to emulate him?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
Our readings today demonstrate to us what it is to be in relationship with God. As Christians, we begin a relationship with God under the so-called New Covenant by the Sacrament of Baptism. Our catechism puts it this way:
Holy Baptism is the Sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God…the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit.[iv]
We begin a relationship with God in Baptism. Perhaps we were baptized as children or infants. If so, our parents and godparents stood in for us until we could take responsibility for our own spiritual development, something we do at confirmation. But, once we take responsibility for our spiritual lives, it is essential that we keep growing.
But what is a Sacrament anyway? I like how the Mennonite theologian John Rempel describes it: “Inherent in the notion of a ‘sacrament’ is the mediation of Spirit by matter. In a symbolic, mysterious way the created order participates in the uncreated order of reality.”[v] Thus the Sacraments enable our participation in the Divine order, and thus are essential components for having an abiding relationship with God in this life.
As in all Sacraments, everything that really matters is God’s doing. He’s the one who sanctifies the baptismal waters; He’s the one who sends the Spirit into our lives; He’s the one who starts to work within us to change us and to make us more like Him. Like so much in the spiritual life, our job is mostly just to show up.
We also take certain vows at our Baptism, which all of us reiterate every time we observe a baptismal service.[vi] For example, we confess the Apostles’ Creed, the original baptismal symbol of the Church which probably goes back to the early part of the third century. We renounce Satan, evil and sinful desires. We accept Christ and put our trust in his grace and love. God does the heavy lifting, but we cooperate with the grace he offers to us.
If we repudiate our baptismal vows by living our lives contrary to them, then God will deal with us accordingly. As we see in our OT passage today, God is not eager that any of us should do this. He wants to be in relationship with us. But, to turn from the grace of our Baptisms and to embrace injustice and wickedness is to become dead spiritually.
Hence Baptism is not all there is to the Christian faith. It is essential for us to cooperate on an ongoing basis with the grace infused in us at our Baptism. This is why works of justice and righteousness are so important. We may enter a covenant relationship with God via our Baptisms, where he does all the work. But we live out our callings as Christians by being servants to one another and to the poor, by living our faith in action.
Hence we do little to begin a relationship with God. But the ongoing maintenance of the relationship is very much something we contribute to by how we live our lives. This is why we’ve been focused so much this week on works of justice and righteousness. It’s how we stay faithful to the covenant whereby God has promised to save us if we’ll persevere in our faith.
Of course, there are some who say that once you’ve said “yes” to God, that’s all there is. You’re then in the family and can never lose your relationship. But this is not how relationships work, which is what our text in Ezekiel makes clear. Repentance is not something we do once. It’s something we need to do on an ongoing basis because all of us, no matter how saintly or mature, are prone to wander.
This is why Lent is such an essential part of our Christian lives. This is a season to clean up our bad habits and focus on our wickedness so that we can deepen our relationship with God. If we’ll turn and do what is right, we’ll maintain our relationship with God. If we don’t, our spirits will wither and our relationship will suffer.
- Review Your Baptismal Vows
If you were baptized in the Episcopal Church, you took certain vows at your Baptism, vows we renew every time we see someone being baptized. Review them, pray over them and ask God to help you meet them (BCP, pp. 302-306).
- Visit the Sick
Jesus sought out the disabled man in our NT reading. Find someone who is ill, shut-in or lonely and plan to visit them on a regular basis.
- Go to Morning Prayer
It’s in the Eucharist that we are given grace on an ongoing basis to live out the Christian life. Find a weekday Eucharistic service and attend it regularly during Lent. See if making an appointment to meet with God that you put on your calendar doesn’t help you do it.
[i] Tertullian, On Baptism, ed. Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody, MA: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009), 5.5, p. 672.
[ii] St Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, The Orthodox Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 1431.
[iii] The early manuscript evidence for v3b’-4 is exceedingly weak and was probably added later by a scribe trying to add clarity to the passage. Yet, the tradition happily employs this text and thus so do I.
[iv] The Book of Common Prayer, 858.
[v] John Rempel, “Sacraments in the Radical Reformation,” in The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology, ed. Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering (Oxford: Oxford Press, 2015), 298.
[vi] The Book of Common Prayer, 302.