Daily Reflection
April 4th, 2000
Shirley Scritchfield
Institutional Research & Assessment
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Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Psalms 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
John 5:1-3, 5-16

“Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.’  And at once the man was healed, and took up his pallet and walked.  Now that day was the sabbath.  So the Jews said to the man who was cured, ‘It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.’” 

John 5:8-9

Today’s gospel story is a familiar one.  Jesus heals a man, despairing and suffering for 38 years, at the pool of Bethesda.  But, that healing takes place on the sabbath—and, thus, the Pharisees condemn his action and find “basis” for their persecution of Jesus.

From our vantage point in the 21st century, we often point to the Pharisees’ response and find it lacking.  We criticize their behavior toward Jesus—and speak of them with disdain.  We point to their legalism—their inability to step outside their laws to know and accept God’s will.  Clearly, they failed—their rules were based not on grace and scripture, but on human-constructed tradition.

But, wait!  Look around you.  How different are we from them—really?  Do we have a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” about Christian behavior—a kind of checklist for Christianity?  Where did our lists come from?  Scripture?  Tradition?  Church doctrine?  Are we guilty of interpreting human rules as God’s rules, of trying to supplement God’s grace with our own works or ideas?  Are we rulebound—or spirit led—in our dealings with others?

As a woman, a feminist, and a Christian, I have often found myself judged, disdained, and ridiculed based on what I perceived to be human laws, not God’s laws.  I have felt firsthand the cruel heartlessness than flows from rigid legalism and doctrinaire perspective.  At one time, I thought myself only the victim of such a stance.  But, the Spirit has led me to see that I too can engage in such thinking—painting those who disagree with a broad and insensitive brush.  I too supplement God’s grace with my interpretation and understanding. 

I have come to see that we all are likely to engage in such behavior, we are all capable of being Pharisees—such is the human condition.  Our understanding is always limited, always fallible.  It is only when we open—and re-open and re-open and re-open—ourselves to the Spirit’s movement in our lives that we can begin to act within the mystery of God’s grace. 

Maybe we too, like the invalid in today’s story, need to pick up our pallet and walk—walk in the path opened for us by the Spirit, even when that path seems to break the rules.  Think how you and I would be different—how the world would be different.   May it be so.

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