My life has changed a lot in the last 9 months. Ever since Mr. D. showed up on our porch at Christ Church, I’ve had to learn and relearn many many things. I’ve learned that homelessness is wildly complicated. I’ve learned that addiction is more powerful than just about everything else. I’ve learned that the system is designed to make it nearly impossible to get a grip on the first rung of society’s ladder. Most recently, as in, as I read the lesson from John 5 appointed for Easter 6C, I’ve learned that I am really good at making and accepting excuses for not helping people.
Like Paul after his conversion, something like scales fell from my eyes as I read, once again, of the exchange between Jesus and the invalid at the pool of Beth-zatha. I noted with familiarity how Jesus asks the man, “do you want to be healed?” Something changed, however, as I read the man’s response to Jesus’ question, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” I thought of all the ways my friends J, M, R, R, M, T, M, A, L, and others have been told they are completely responsible for their own situations. How if they weren’t just so damn lazy, they wouldn’t be where they are.
The man’s response to Jesus sounds like an excuse – but not in the way I used to think of it. Rather than being an excuse for the man not making his way into the pool after nearly 40 decades of trying, but the excuse hundreds of thousands of passers-by had used to not be the one who helped him. “Oh, he just doesn’t want to get better.” “If only he hadn’t burned bridges with his family.” “He probably likes the attention.” “Another opioid addict.” “The government should step in.” “The Church should help him.” On and on and on.
The truth of the matter is that like the pool of Beth-zatha, the system is, by and large, completely arbitrary. This was highlighted during the long government shutdown in late 2018-early 2019, when reports began to show just how many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. According to Forbes, the number is 78%. That means that nearly 4 out of every 5 Americans don’t have the reserves to pay their bills after missing only one paycheck. And once you fall behind, it is nearly impossible to get back on track. With late fees and exorbitant reconnect fees, where the price of a gallon of milk at a food desert C-Store is three times what it costs at my local Kroger and a load of laundry at the laundromat costing about the same, where getting “a deal” at a no-deposit weekly hotel still puts your monthly rent at $1,100 a month, with no kitchen, it is easy for me to hear the voice of my friends experiencing homelessness in the words of the man beside the pool of Beth-zatha.
These aren’t excuses they are making to not want help, but the realities of the situation, and, quite frankly, excuses those of us in positions to make a difference often use to not do anything. Jesus picked up all those excuses and changed the rules. No longer would the man have to wait by the pool, but rather, he could be healed right now. Now, I’m not a miracle worker nor a billionaire, able to simply wave my hand and fix a system full of excuses, but I serve a God who can. What excuses is God inviting you to pick up and toss away? How is God inviting you to see the world in a different way? How is God inviting you to change your community?