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March 13, 2018 - Take Up Your Mat and Walk

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Scripture Readings

In the story from John’s gospel, we encounter a man who has suffered greatly for thirty-eight years from a terrible affliction that renders him nearly immobile. He has no real help in the world. The only people around him are other afflicted human beings with whom he must try to compete in order to get some relief in the pool. But he fails. And so, he can only reasonably expect to go on suffering for the rest of his days.

But then Jesus appears on the scene and asks him if he wants to be well. Can we imagine what that man must have felt in that moment? After having suffered for so very long—thirty-eight years (the greater part of a lifetime)—suddenly he faces the prospect of being liberated from all that pain. Of course, the man says that he does want to be well. Jesus heals him and commands him: “Take up your mat and walk.”

A simple story of healing? Maybe. Or maybe not.

It’s worth noting that in addition to healing the man of his affliction, Jesus commands the man to take up his mat and walk. And the man does. Could he have done so without Jesus’s command?

The fact that Jesus commanded the man to take up his mat and walk suggests that Jesus knew that the man not only needed healing but also needed to be told to embrace that healing. Afflictions can be complicated, especially when they are so long suffered. While we may want to imagine that whenever someone is healed they immediately experience complete liberation from suffering and begin living life anew, it may not be so easy. Perhaps in addition to being healed, we may also need to hear the word from Jesus—get up and walk. We may need his command—leave that affliction behind and get on.

In this Lenten season in which we examine ourselves and our relationship to God and one another, we may want to ask ourselves if there are any places in our lives in which we have received God’s grace but have not yet heard Jesus’s call to take up our mat and walk. Are we living with an affliction—a burden, a source of guilt, a regret—for which we have been forgiven, for which we have received healing, but still carry around with us? Have we experienced the grace of God in some way but have failed to live into it fully?

It is not enough for Jesus to heal us. We must also challenge ourselves to trust in that grace so that we may take up our mat and walk.

God of infinite grace, you know our pain, our suffering, our afflictions. You know our burdens, our guilt, our regrets. May we not only receive your grace but also live fully into it. May we trust in your healing power, take up our mats, and walk into newness of life. Amen.

- Sue Trollinger