The theme for today’s meditation is ‘Sanctifying the differently abled’ I want to settle the definitions first so that we clearly understand what we are meditating on.
In Christian theology, sanctification is a state of being set aside for the glory of God. All believers enter into this state when they are born from above; in other words when they become part of the Kingdom of Jesus. We are sanctified, when we are justified before Jesus, and justification here would refer to the inauguration of a life of faith in Jesus Christ and its final consummation in Salvation. The believer’s present justified Christian existence is thus an anticipation of and the participation in the Walk with Jesus towards acquittal from the sins and citizenship in Christ’s New Creation.
People who are afflicted with different physical or mental impediments are generally considered ‘disabled.’ These are people who are maimed, deaf and dumb, blind, mentally ill and suffer from a whole lot of maladies. However, the first thing that comes to mind when labelling someone as 'disabled' is the action itself. While there exist varying degrees of disablements, it is quite inappropriate to label anyone as ‘disabled.’ Who they are as a person is not impacted by their medical condition. More importantly, it surely does not impair their identity in Christ. The most appropriate expression would be, ‘differently abled’ as this expression is inclusive and offers an equal platform to all. Would you agree with me if I say, you and I are differently abled, though we may not be maimed physically or mentally ill? We are. At the same time, all of us are equal in Jesus, for we are created in His image.
God created the universe and human beings perfect, i.e., in a sanctified state. Everything and everyone functioned flawlessly until Adam and Eve believed Satan's lies. The fall threw the human race and the universe into a state of dysfunction (Gen 3:14-19). However, neither was so distorted by the fall so as to obliterate God's original purpose and design completely. Nothing could change God’s plans. Fallen human beings still bear God's image (James 3:9-10). Fallen creation still witnesses to God's existence and attributes (Psalm 19:1-6; Rom 1:20). Yet both, depending on the analogy employed, are skewed, broken, fallen, dysfunctional, and "unsanctified." The imperfect state of creation is a reminder that God's fully sanctified purpose for it has been disrupted by sin. Evil is the deprivation of the good that God intends for the creation He has designed. The creation groans, awaiting its sanctification when everything will be set right (Rom 8:21-22; Rev. 20-21).
Human beings, made in God's image, were the pinnacle and focus of His creation. The sanctification of human beings, therefore, is the highest goal of God's work in the universe. God explicitly declared it to be His will (1 Thessalonians 4:3). The Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus performed 37 miracles, if we count all the miracles as reported in the 4 Gospels, starting with turning water into wine and going to the extent of raising the dead. Of this over 25 miracles are of healing people who suffer different maladies.
Thirty-eight years is a long time to sit on your mat. Every day is the same. Waiting, Watching, and Hoping. Not much changes. Sitting on his mat has become a way of life for the man in today’s gospel passage read to us from John 5:1-9. His life is stagnant. He is unable to see that the deep well of life is right within him. Instead, he is convinced that life will bubble up outside of him, over there, in that magic pool of water. So, he sits on his mat waiting, watching, and hoping that things will change someday. He is hoping that someone will put him in the bubbling water, as soon as the bubbling appears. He is living an ‘as soon as’ life.
The life outside of us is an illusion. It convinces us that our life is nothing more than our circumstances. It deceives us into believing that life is to be found outside ourselves. It tricks us into living an “as soon as” life. Most of us know what that is like. We say to ourselves or maybe even to others, “As soon as this or that happens everything will be better. I will be happy. My problems will go away. I will be satisfied. All will be well.” The pool of Berhesda has a strong attraction for all of us. Children often say, “As soon as I get big, grow up, become an adult ….” It continues throughout our life. “As soon as ….” I graduate, get a job, get a better job; I get married or get out of this relationship; I have more time, more money, a better house; He changes the way he acts; She apologizes; it goes on and on and the list is infinite. The problem is there will always be another pool of Berhesda. Meanwhile life has been put on hold. The pause button has been pushed. We sit on our mat, self-imprisoned by the circumstances of our life. The imprisonment is so great that when Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” There was no spontaneous “Yes” from him, a person who has been waiting for 38 years to be healed! Amazing, isn’t it? He is perhaps the least willing and the least grateful of all the people Jesus had healed. Instead, he offers circumstances and excuses. “I have no one to put me in the water. When the water bubbles others get there first.” I am not suggesting that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant or have no effect. That is just not true. They do affect us. We are, however, more than the circumstances of our lives. Life is not to be found outside our situations or circumstances but within them.
Jesus does not help the man get into the water. Jesus comes to him on his mat, the same mat and situation the man so wants to escape, and speaks words of life and resurrection. “Get up off your mat!” To quote Jesus a bit more accurately, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” The man does not leave his mat behind. It goes with him. His circumstances are real. The difference is he now carries them. They no longer carry him. He stands sanctified.
I want to contrast this man with Bartimaeus, whom I describe as the ‘Blind man with a 20/10 vision.’ An oxymoronic statement, but true. They say that there is no one as blind as he who will not see or he who refused to see. I suppose you will agree with me that there are many people walking around in this world today whose eyes work just fine, yet they cannot seem to see that they are headed the wrong way towards eternal damnation. In this report of Mark, in chapter 10:46-52, we are presented with a man who was totally blind. Bartimaeus could see nothing with his physical eyes; he was perhaps born blind, yet he could see things on a spiritual level that others were blind to. As he sat by the highway, he had heard about Jesus and he knew that what Jesus had done for others, He could do for him as well! As Jesus passed by, not wanting to give up an opportunity to be sanctified, Bartimaeus cried out loudly for Jesus to heal him. He received healing that day and would want to become a follower of Jesus.
Jesus does not change our outer circumstances. He changes us. He calls us to a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking, and thinking. When we stand and rise to that new life we will discover that our circumstances have somehow changed. That doesn’t necessarily make life easy or mean we no longer have to deal with the circumstances of life. The pool of Bethesda is drained of its power over us. There is freedom where there was once imprisonment. Apathy gives way to creativity. Once stagnant waters now bubble with new life. That is the sanctification Jesus offers us.
The life Jesus offers does not happen “as soon as ….” It happens in this place, at this time, in these circumstances. Are you sitting on your mat? Are you looking for a pool of Bethesda? “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” May Jesus bless you for that.
Prayer: God of Life, Who loves justice and graciously sanctify each life, Shower Your grace on all who are weak, tormented, persecuted, insulted, paralyzed and are mentally and physically challenged and teach us to be gracious, So that all those who suffer physical and mental challenges may live their life in dignity and sanctity, Through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forevermore. Amen.
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