an aid to reflection on the introduction of gay marriage in the UK
Rafael: Micha, my friend! I’ve missed you! You wouldn’t believe it, I’ve been all round the country. It’s been so good to be able to walk - I’ve been making up for all those lost years.
Micha: Well, you did hold the club record - how many years was it?
Rafael: 38, I think. I lost count, to be honest.
Micha: So what happened? One day you were here, the next you’d vanished in a puff of temple smoke.
Rafael: Well, you know how everyone at the Pool here gets treated like animals…
Micha: Tell me about it!
Rafael: …kicked by the Romans for being crippled vermin, spat on by the religious hobnobs for supposedly having brought it on ourselves by some past misdemeanour.
Micha: Well, it is our fault. ‘My sin is ever before me’, and all that.
Rafael: Ah, I’ll come back to that. Anyway… this guy comes along and sits beside me. Sits! On my level! Has anyone done that with you??
Micha: No - why would they want to??
Rafael: Well he did. And he sat there for ages, just quietly, not saying anything yet somehow listening to me, staring with me at the water… And after a while it felt like he was one of us - though I couldn’t see anything wrong with him.
Micha: Ah, people have all sorts of hidden issues. With all the folk we get to observe, we know that well enough, eh?!
Rafael: But not this one! And then eventually he asks, ‘do you want to get well?’
Micha: Like they do - as a joke, thinking they’re funny - ha ha…
Rafael: Only he wasn’t joking. He was kind. He meant it. And the emotion welled up in me, and I just blurted out that I couldn’t get down to the water in time. This place is all about success and failure: make it to the water and you’re saved, the rest of us, well we’ve failed. This place traps us - not by our sin but simply by not being able to make the mark. Tears were starting to run down my face by this point - I could be myself with this guy. I’d started to feel free already and I wasn’t even healed!
Micha: Rafael, honestly - crying - call yourself a man?!
Rafael: You know what, he was crying too… But when he next spoke, his tears looked to be of joy! Know what he said? ‘Stand up, pick up your mat and walk’!
Micha: And, given that you’ve been walking since, presumably you did!
Rafael: But even before that, it was remarkable. He said ‘stand up’ almost like a joke - but not a bad joke - a good joke - because it was a hilarious instruction. But he was smiling and laughing - with me, not at me. And it was like his infectious joy, his laughter even, ran through my bones, and my muscles, and all of me. And I was on my feet in a flash. And - sorry, I’m going to embarrass you again - I couldn’t resist giving him this enormous hug!
Micha: Well… [sarcastically] It’s nice to know that things turned out so well for you. And nice of you to tell me so quickly. Maybe he could have sorted me out too - but obviously I don’t deserve it.
Rafael: I am sorry it’s taken so long. But the trekking round the countryside I mentioned, it wasn’t just a jaunt, or earning money from giving talks about the miracle (actually, I didn’t earn a shekel!). No, I followed this guy around - as lots of other people were doing.
Micha: All placing bets on who he would heal next, I guess!
Rafael: It wasn’t so much that he healed people (though he did) - somehow he was healing. He was life, to those who could see it - so human and alive, laughing and crying… And he said things that made so much sense - like one day he said he was ‘the door’ - sounds mysterious, but it’s like he was a door I’d gone through to freedom from being trapped by failure.
Micha: So why have you come back here now? Where is this guy?
Rafael: He’s come back to Jerusalem…
Micha: Hang on a minute, Rafael: look, the spring’s bubbling up…
Great - like old times - Wager on the Water - who’s going to make it down first? Get your money out, mate!…
Micha: Bad luck mate - thanks for your money! You always did pick who you wanted to win, not who was likely to!
Rafael: Quite true! I got another one wrong too, we all did. We didn’t think that this man - sorry, I hadn’t told you his name - it’s Jesus - would come back to Jerusalem.
Micha: Why not, it’s the Passover soon.
Rafael: Going back to that day - well, it was a game of two halves, alright, ‘cos it quickly all went downhill. I’d turned away for a moment to celebrate with a couple of the guys, and when I turned back he’d disappeared into the crowd. So, I trotted off to enjoy my new-found freedom and go the temple. And I was stopped in my tracks by one of the religious hobnobs. ‘It is not lawful to carry your mat’, he said, in that superior voice they do so well. ‘It is the sabbath’. I was gobsmacked.
Micha: Well, he was right, wasn’t he? Why didn’t you leave your mat behind?
Rafael: I was just enjoying taking my first deep breaths of the new life I’d been given, and those words - ‘It is not lawful’ - it was like being punched in the stomach and having that breath knocked out of me. Oh Micha mate, how can four short words - ‘It is not lawful’ - cause such problems? The lawyers spend so much time arguing about what is and isn’t lawful. The dissent, the conflict that gets stirred up! And the rest of us, if we’re on the wrong end of their judgements, they don’t even seem to notice the grief they cause, the pain, the condemnation. People simply get crushed.
Micha: But that's just it - the law’s only a problem if we don’t obey it - and then we deserve the consequences. The law is good: it keeps us on the right track, gives us boundaries - and we certainly need those - it brings order. It helps us please God.
Rafael: But what if those boundaries get in the way of good being done? Jesus made me better on the Sabbath. It should be a no-brainer - but the lawyers classified that as work, of course!
Micha: Naturally. The Sabbath is rooted in Creation - it’s holy because God himself rested. You can’t change the created order of things!
Raphael: I know it’s hard to get because you weren’t there. But what was obvious was that Jesus wasn’t changing the created order - he was simply showing that the law has limitations.
Micha: The law of God - limited? Only the law can provide solid rock to stand on - are you suggesting we have a joy-ride down the slippery slope into the world of the heathen?? It’ll be a short-lived one, I can tell you! ‘Happy are those who walk in the law of the Lord’.
Raphael: But I’ve seen that Jesus brings life! He’s shown me that boundaries sometimes need to be understood differently. He reveals the created order as it really is. The law can numb us to this.
Micha: I didn’t have you down as subversive! This Jesus has had a bad influence. Our lawyers know the Scriptures inside out!
Rafael: It’s easy for the lawyers to make and obey the rules - they avoid the messiness of real life. They don’t sit and listen to people's stories of pain and confusion. They don’t sit and listen to a cripple…
Micha: OK, so what laws does Jesus teach?
Rafael: He teaches how to understand it: that our Jewish laws are special because they point to God’s perfection - and freed to aspire to that ourselves, not trapped by our failures. Jesus always challenged us with how we could love other people better - and love God better. But a bit like I said he seemed to be life - he also somehow seemed to ‘be’ law, to ooze what it meant.
Micah: You mean he kept the law perfectly? I’ll believe that when I see it!
Rafael: Much more than that. He seemed to be encouraging us, instead of looking for guidance to the law, to look at him, who he was, how he lived. And that any laws - from the past, even in the future! - were not rules to be slavishly obeyed, but that we should interpret them by looking at him - that the starting point for knowing what to do shouldn’t be laws but him…
Micha: A little egotistical, perhaps?? It all sounds worryingly loose. Very convenient and easy.
Rafael: Believe me, having watched him, ‘easy’ couldn’t be further from the truth. He didn’t live by the luxury of rules - he lived much more riskily. In every situation, with every person, he applied thought and care and discernment, and imagination and courage - and infinite generosity. Plenty of laughter too, of course - there’s no law against that! The model of service and sacrifice. Which is what brings him to Jerusalem…
Micha: How come?
Rafael: The resistance he’s faced from the religious hobnobs… (he’s eternally gracious that I dropped him in it that first day), it’s coming to a head. This man brings life! But the legal-eagles who steal life will get their prey and steal his. That first day even, I felt something of this darkness. ‘Don’t sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you’, he said. I could see sadness in his eyes, and he was staring beyond me as if he was talking about everyone. And now I understand: he can see the calamity that will come if we Jews, of all people, kill God’s representative… It’ll be blasphemy they’ll nail him for.
Micha: Blasphemy?? I’m sorry, but he deserves it, then. Frustrating - that’s my miracle healing gone! But we’ve got to hold those boundaries… It has been good to see you back, though, Rafael.
Rafael: You want to know my bet, Micha? - and this isn’t just wishful thinking! That he’ll be back too. The law will kill him, but that life that coursed through me - that joy, that laughter - how can it not do so for him??… Life will have the last laugh!.. See you around.
--------------Alphaeus adds (for 21st century readers):
How can the way Jesus handles people and handles Scripture help shape our approach as Christians to the introduction last weekend of gay marriage?
For the authorised version of Rafael's story, see John’s Gospel chapter 5