Day 288--John 5-6 by Glogger John Weiler, from Christ Church, Duanesburg
October 15, 2021, 10:25 AM

Jesus was a troublemaker.

Far better at exceeding expectations than meeting them.

Our story begins, as the KJV has it, with “great multitudes of impotent folk, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.”

In those days it was believed that from time to time an angel troubled the still surface of the pool of Bethesda. And when the water rippled by this slender, unseen finger or the flutter of a wingtip, whoever dove in first was made whole.

Hence the queue.

But this was a problem for a man who couldn’t walk, who had no strength in his limbs. Such a man told Jesus of his plight. But Jesus didn’t help him to the water, lifting him into his carpenter’s arms and shouldering his way to the head of the line as the disabled man might expect.


He simply healed him. He spoke a few words and healed him. Jesus said, “Arise, take up thy bed and walk.” And he did.

Right into trouble:

Pharisees or other assorted magisterial busybodies, the text isn’t terribly specific. (John wrote for a Greek audience. They wouldn’t know a Pharisee from a Pharmacy.) It just says, “the Jews.” Meaning, I suppose, the self-appointed Right Sort of Jews that keep to the letter of the law.

So, they flagged him down and said, You there, with the bedroll! Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? Carrying that thing is work.

Never mind the man couldn’t have lifted his bed an inch much less moved it only a half-hour before. Not if he tried.

No, he was expected to not walk around with a rolled-up futon on his shoulder on a Saturday; he was expected to stay put.

Remain in his place with the blind, halt, withered, waiting.

Who told you to lug that thing through the streets on the Sabbath? they asked.

The same who made me whole, he told them. He said, Take up thy bed and walk. And I did.

And who’s that?

So, he told them, and they were not pleased with Jesus. Not at all. Not pleased with his ill-timed, out-of-title work or his dubious instructions.

It just wasn’t what was expected of a good rabbi.

So, they called him out on it.

You broke the Law, they said. They berated, they scolded, they shamed. They threatened. You’d better explain, or you are so dead.

What did they expect?

Not what he said.

Jesus said, My Father works on the Sabbath, so I work

But now they wanted him dead all the more because he placed himself on an equal footing with God.

One supposes they expected fear, contrition.

That’s not what they got.

Jesus rebuked them for jumping on the John bandwagon for a season. -- He’s dead, they’re gone. John who?

Well, said Jesus, I am here to complete that work.

So, he rebuked them for seeking eternal life in scripture, just ink on a page if they failed to recognize when its fulfillment and living witness stood before them.

He scolded them for not accepting Jesus when he came in his Father’s name but accepting shills and posers that came in their own.

He tasked them for lip service to Moses.

And certainly, adherence to the jot and letter of the Law while departing from the spirit of it is lip service.

You know, like berating an until-very-recently disabled man for carrying his bed on the Sabbath.

“Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me,” said Jesus.

True that.

Then Jesus got out of Dodge and took his disciples to the hills by the shores of Galilee.

Folks followed; word had spread.

They sat at his feet to listen.

Five hundred men gathered and that’s just the men. Certainly, there were women there too.

And children because one brought a box lunch.

The disciples freaked. Who would feed these people?

What if they got hangry and turned on them?

Jesus defied expectation.

Five loaves.

Two little fish.

You know the rest.

Twelve baskets of leftovers.

Now, an aside. There are those uncomfortable with the unexpected, this dizzyingly generous exceeding of all reasonable expectations.

And they suggest this is all…symbolic.

That by sharing this young boy’s merger meal, Jesus shamed the crowd into divvying up their own lunches which they produced from secret pockets, up sleeves, palmed like card tricks and hidden behind rocks or something.

But here’s the thing.

It doesn’t say that.

Not in any of the Gospels.

Not anywhere.

And this story is told in all four.

When Jesus says or does things that make folks act better than they think they are, you bet the Apostles told those stories and you bet they wrote it down.

Jesus told a self-righteously murderous mob to drop their stones unless they were without sin.

It doesn’t say he made the stones disappear as a symbol for the people dropping their stones.

So, yeah, loaves, fishes, miracle.

And what a miracle! The happy, full people so impressed by his press, by his deeds, by his gifts and his healing rose by force to make him king.

And Jesus booked for the mountains to be alone.

Imagine that, tempted to worldly kingship in the wilderness?

The disciples, perhaps used to Jesus and his Irish goodbyes, rowed for home in Capernaum.

Then a storm hit.

Deep water was a symbol of chaos to the ancient Israelites. They were not a seafaring people like the Phoenicians. If they could walk through it on dry land with the presence of God in a column of smoke up front, all the better.

Because the sea was not their jam. It’s just where all the fish are. And fishing was the livelihood of many of the disciples.

So, to their dismay, the disciples found themselves swamped to the gunwales and then they looked and saw Jesus walking on the water.

Who expected that?

He met them in the middle of the lake. “Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”

Just like that, they were home.

And the fans were there to greet them. They crowded around him in the synagogue.

Maybe they expected more free sardine sandwiches.

But Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” and, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life,”

Many walked away shaking their heads.

Even the Twelve said, Man, that’s a tough one.

Because it’s never what we expect.

Jesus fulfilled the most troubling and opaque of prophetic pronouncements and defied literal readings of promised kingship and victory by far exceeding it.

He showed the zealots the paucity of their political vision, the Pharisees the moral limitations of their Law. He surpassed Pilate’s limited conception of kingship and power, even the people’s visions of freedom.

He continues to stymie the puzzle masters that would attempt to crack the Bible like a code, defy the legalists who would make it a rulebook, flummox with parables and poetry literalists who insist on Biblical inerrancy, exceed the scope of bumper sticker philosophers, terrify the timorous seeking a faith of easy comfort, baffle the rationalists that would weigh his truths in empirical scales, even surprise the taletellers who seek a tidy narrative bow to tie it all up.

He troubles the waters of our complacency to make us whole if we just dive in.

What did you expect?

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