The Kingdom Belongs to Such as These

 

Last week in Toronto,  speaking at The Peoples Church, I had a heart-altering experience. I was speaking from the passage in John 5 where Jesus asks a man who has been “an invalid for thirty-eight years” if he wants to get well. The man doesn’t leap at the opportunity. Essentially, he whines.

            Jesus heals him anyhow.

            One of the puzzles of this story is, Why only one? John says that there was a “great multitude of disabled people – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” lying about the place. Why didn’t Jesus heal them all, or at least a baker’s dozen?

            In the first service, I wondered about that, and offered a few thoughts on it.

            Then I attended the Friendship Class. The Friendship Class is for adults with physical and/or mental disabilities. About 15 came that day – I was told that sometimes up to 40 people come, but it was brutally cold that day and most of people in the class depend on public transportation and so many stayed home.

            For the next half hour, I joined their fellowship, worship, testimony, and Bible discussion. None of it was polished. All of it was a bit chaotic. It was full of glitches and interruptions. The singing was mostly off key.

            And yet I have never experienced the Kingdom of God so tangibly.

            Everyone was utterly free of pretention. There was no posturing. There was not a whiff of envy or rivalry. There was love, and joy, and real pain, unconcealed, and a deep spirit of heartfelt welcome. The first thing many of the people did on meeting me was hug me, and lay their head on my chest. Some pinched my cheeks. It was disarming.

            I went back to preach the second service, wrecked. What had I just witnessed?

            I got to the place in my sermon when I asked the question, Why just one?

            But this time I answered differently: “I’ve just come from visiting the Friendship Class. I stood in the presence of some of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever met. So I’m wondering if the reason Jesus only heals one man here is that he looks around at all the disabled people, and he only sees this one man who isn’t whole, so he helps him.” 

            Jesus pointed to the weakest, the smallest, the least in our midst, and told us to pay special attention: the kingdom belongs to such as these, he said.

            I’m starting to get what he meant.

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