Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Finding Home in God

How do you know when you're home? Not just in your house, but how do you know when you're really home? Some say it's the one place where they have to let you in. Some say it's the place where they take you just as you are. For me, it's the place where I know I truly belong.

In John 5:1-18, Jesus stumbled upon a man who is lost in a spiritual and physical wilderness. He had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. He had been lying on a mat on the ground by the pool waiting for healing, but that healing, although tantalizingly close, was forever beyond his grasp. The waters, it seems, had healing properties. Tradition held that when the water was stirred up--perhaps by the arrival of an angel--whoever was first in the pool was healed of whatever disease or disability she or he had. The man literally could see the healing he desperately desired, but he could not get to it. For all it mattered to him, he might as well be out in the desert places. So distant was that hope that it had become invisible. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, all he do was reiterate the problem: "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."

There's a tension between wilderness and home with which this text is impregnated. A Jewish reader of this story would have noticed a connection between the thirty-eight years that the man had been an invalid and the thirty-eight years that Israel wandered in the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. With that insight, the five porticoes remind the reader of the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. The conflict between the religious authorities and the man and Jesus over the Sabbath healing, therefore, becomes not only a controversy of the day but a commentary on the relationship between God's people and the Law. It is Jesus' acknowledgment that God's people belong at home with God and that the forces of evil that pervert that relationship by leaving God's people stranded in the desert must be rebuked.

What does it mean to come out of the wilderness and find one's self at home? What does it mean to leave behind one's wanderings in a spiritual desert and find a true sense of belonging in God? Until Jesus came, the Law was God's greatest gift to God's people. It was the gift of a relationship, of a belonging. It defined the people of Israel as a nation that belongs to God. It was a celebration of that belonging. Yet, for some, that belonging was only an illusion. Those who were marked as deficient physically, spiritually, morally, or economically were ostracized and left out in the wilderness. Jesus did not come to reverse or replace the sense of belonging between God and God's people. Jesus came to restore that sense of belonging.

Today, are the followers of Jesus more interested in drawing a circle around those whom they think belong to God, differentiating between those who are in and those who are out, or restoring the truth that God's desire is for all people to belong to God? How have we, Jesus' disciples, lost sight of Jesus' mission and replaced it with our own idolatrous agenda? This Lent, as we approach the holy city, where Jesus "stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace," will we repent of the separations that we have enforced between us and them? We have been given the privilege of knowing and trusting that we belong to God. That truth has been granted in our birth and reinforced by our position in life. We have a home in God. But that home doesn't belong to us. It isn't ours to protect. It is the place where even strangers belong. It's time for us to leave the front door and the back door unlocked.

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