Justice and Love: God’s Healing Waters – The Rev. Michelle Meech
May 22, 2022
Our readings today, talk about the love that flows from God – this mercy and blessing that comes to us like a cool drink on a hot day. When we, get lost in the terror of the world, can finally feel a sense of peace and calm, even sweetness, because are being healed. We are being made whole. We feel the tension leave our body and our soul relaxes.
Both the Revelation to John and the Gospel of John offer us the image of water as the element, the vehicle through which healing and cleansing take place.
In Revelation we have this beautiful imagery:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more.
And now, here the story from the Gospel of John again:
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “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.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
The river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from God. A river that flows through the middle of the city, of the world. A river feeds the tree of life, heavy with fruit for nourishment, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
And a story about a sick man, lying near the pool of healing water, unable to enter. Always forgotten as others step down ahead of him in their own selfishness and greed. And it is the love of God, in the person of Jesus the Christ, that heals this man… even after 38 years of illness.
The imagery of water is powerful in our tradition – the waters of creation, the flood waters in the story of Noah, the river upon which Moses floated to be saved, the Red Sea through which the Israelites escaped slavery… and, of course, the River Jordan… through which the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land.
As Christians, we believe in the healing that the waters of Baptism provide to us. Baptism is our big YES to the love God enfolds in us from the moment we are knit together. In the waters of Baptism, we make a pledge to live into that love, becoming ministers of Christ in the world. How is this healing?
Because we learn that service to others pulls us out of our own repetitive negative self-talk and service in the world ultimately heals us all. But also because the waters of Baptism make us a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are the Body of Christ together. And that heals our loneliness and our broken-heartedness through the mystery of God’s Holy Spirit.
The healing power of water then, is not some kind of magic. But, specifically, Baptismal water is a sacrament, a sign of what is already present inside of us, this desire to love, to heal, to enact true justice. Water, then, is a metaphor for the opening of our heart, the clearing of our mind, the inspiration of our spirit, so that we can move with more focus into the Reign of God. A needed balm in a troubling world. A cool drink on a hot day.
But healing isn’t just about us as individuals. It never is. Because our healing and the healing of society are tied together. They go hand-in-hand. We cannot fully heal until healing happens around us too. We will never feel fully relieved of our own pain unless and until significant healing has been accomplished on a societal level.
Why? Because in a society that is sick with greed and where gun violence happens in unsurprisingly frequent intervals, we will always be trying to protect what we have in some way. We will never be truly willing to surrender everything and, as such, be free of the world’s trappings. And because we are attached to what we have, we will always maintain a certain level of anxiety, restlessness, jealousy, anger, and pain.
But we can make choices that help to relieve us of this burden. We can learn to live in more of a balance by working for justice in our world.
Theologian Cornell West has been quoted as saying so often: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
The beautifully poetic imagery we have from the Revelation to John has these water of life flowing through a city, not the country, not a private estate… but a city. Where many people live in communion together. And the leaves on the trees that feed us with its fruit, the leaves are those that heal the nations. The healing that Jesus offers is not just the healing of the man at the side of the pool, but the healing of the narrow rules that bind people to sin out of that same need I was just talking about – to protect what we have we become anxious, restless, jealous, and angry.
The first clue that this is more than an individual healing, is in the number of years – 38 years is used like 40 years… another way of saying “a long time”. If you recall, this figure of speech was used to express the number of years that the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, looking for home, the home promised to them by God. The healing that needed to take place was for a whole people, an entire society. In this story, our Gospeler John is connecting the two – the healing of the individual is the healing of the whole.
The second clue that this is a societal healing is the specific point that others always got in front of him, demonstrating the systemic problem of the haves and the have nots. This sets up the reader to expect more than just an individual healing. In order to heal this one person, Jesus must address the larger system that keeps this man marginalized.
And finally, we have the last sentence of today’s reading: “Now that day was a sabbath.” Of course, what we’re missing is the next bit after the reading ends… Where the religious authorities catch the man walking with his mat and tell him, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He replied, but the one who healed me told me to do this. And they asked who healed him and, eventually, he told them it was Jesus. It was for this, that the religious authorities started persecuting Jesus.
Not because he healed one man, but because in doing so, he challenged their system of control and greed.
The mercy and blessing that is promised to us in our own healing is given to us for the sake of the world. Our healing is not for ourselves alone, but so that we can become that healing in and for the world. We receive love in order to give love. To offer the love that flows into our own hearts and obtain God’s promises of justice and mercy.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
God created an Eden for us, the abundance of God’s love means that all of life can be sustained by the creation itself. The problem we face as a global society, and therefore, at every level – federal, regional, local – the problem we face is not a lack of resources, but the hoarding of resources by some so that others cannot live. The oppression of the many through the greed of the few. Eden was destroyed by the sin of greed.
So the healing we seek is not individual, but it is the healing of Eden, if you will. The Eden inside of us and the physical Eden that is this amazing creation we have been given. To be fed by this water of life, bright as crystal, this love flowing from God and reject the hoarding of resources so that we can actively work to restore balance to the abundance that God has already given us.
From today’s Psalm:
The earth has brought forth this increase; may God, our own God, give us their blessing.
May God give us their blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of God.