Vital Signs 3: From the Inside Out
Bible Reading: John 5:1-15
Bible Reading: John 7:15-24
Of all the signs in John's gospel, there is one that stands out as the one that needs the most unpacking and the most work to get its point.
Fortunately our blood is flowing well to our brains today, because this is the week!
I think there are two reasons that makes this the sign out of all seven that is easiest to misunderstand.
Firstly, for some reason or other, the final version of the gospel that we have has separated the miracle section of the sign from the rest of the story that (just like the last couple of weeks) helps us to see what the sign itself is.
The first part of chapter 5 and the second half of chapter 7 fit together like hand and glove. (That's why we read them as we did today). For some reason ? whether it is for deliberate stylistic reasons, or an accidental quirk of editing, ? chapter 6 now sits in the middle. We'll look at chapter 6 later, as it has its own sign, ? but for now it sort of just gets in the way.
So it is easy for us not to see the whole story together, and therefore miss part of its point.
And secondly, when we are already starting with this slightly confused base, we then have the fact that the point of this sign is the, of all, least connected to the ?miracle'. So if we don't do the careful reading we should, we could end up thinking that this is just a story of a miraculous healing.
It is a story of a healing, but that's not all it is, nor is it ultimately its point.
Remember the lens through which we are seeing the stories in the gospel:
These things are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
If that's not how we are looking at the signs, then we're missing something!
It's in the conversations after the healing, that we get the clues as to what the gospel is pointing at. What are they about?
Healing on the Sabbath
The Sabbath is an important festival celebration of the Jewish faith, and it is enshrined in one of the 10 commandments.
And rules, or commandments all imply authority. You need to have authority to make them and you need to have (or flout) authority to break them.
There is only one being who can work on the Sabbath, or tell other people that it is OK to work on the Sabbath, because in the faith of Judaism, the commandment to keep the Sabbath is understood to have come from God.
So the only one who can break the rule, is God.
This is a sign about authority.
"These things are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."
This is a sign that is pointing us to understand who Jesus is, and where his authority lies.
This is one of those times in the gospel that points us to the equation
Now, however, this is where we all too often take the next step and, in my opinion, blow it.
If Jesus=God, then we could treat Jesus as God. We praise Jesus. We lift Jesus up in our minds and our songs. We treat him as "up there", distant, exalted, judge of the world. In short, we create Jesus in our, (Old Testament?) understanding of who God is.
But isn't that the whole thing that the gospels are trying to turn around for us?
Whenever Jesus gets "praised" or "glorified" or people attempt to push him into that status, do you notice his reaction? Each and every time it is "Don't do that" "Stop it" "No".
If the sign is pointing us to Jesus=God, and Jesus wants us to stop pushing him high and separated, then maybe we should be listening to him.
Maybe we should read the equation the other way.
God = Jesus.
Instead of pushing Jesus up, maybe we should understand that we should be thinking of God as Jesus.
Maybe we should be thinking of a God who is localised, compassionate, interested in us, walking beside us, knowing us well enough to ask questions of our desires for wholeness.
Maybe we should be taking seriously "Emmanuel" ? God with us.
Maybe we should understand that the Word has become flesh, and that God really is beside us.
And maybe in all of that we could hear again those striking words of Jesus at the end of the gospel
"As the Father sent me now I send you"