I have participated in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship International)1See the BSF website for a description of this ministrysince 2017, a para-church ministry. I have also participated in the XCC (Extreme Character Challenge) Canada2See the XCC website for information since 2019, another para-church ministry.
The two, BSF and XCC, intersected for me in today’s BSF discussion group.3I participate in an online BSF discussion group led ably by John Charles in Adelaide, Australia
The BSF study was on chapter 5 of the Gospel of John. During the discussion, verse 6 moved me to further think about and reflect on this passage – the miraculous healing of the man who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The setting was the pool of Bethzatha by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem.
Jesus, when he saw this one lying there and knew that he been sick a long time already, said to him, “Do you want to become well?” (LEB)John 5:6 (Lexham English Bible)
The BSF study guide question was: “Why would Jesus ask the question recorded in verse 6?”
To be honest, my first thought was: “Well, duh…”
Then during the discussion, I got lost in my thoughts.
The man had been poolside for thirty-eight years, hoping for the chance to be healed according to the tradition of that site. Yet, when asked, he had a ready reason for why he had remained ill for so long. It seems from his response to Jesus that he considered himself helpless. His answer betrayed his gloomy pessimistic perspective. He had probably fallen into a routine of surviving day to day. (I do acknowledge that others might say he has not given up hoping to be healed. Possible, yes, but we can never really know.)
Thus, it is not beyond reason to imagine that this man became resigned to his fate.
These thoughts made me imagine the daily routine this ill man might have worked out for himself. The pool becomes active, he is helpless and cannot compete for first into the water. He remains sick. For thirty-eight years.
Routine, I find, numbs the mind. Routine often makes us forget why we developed the routine in the first place. Routine often morphs into muscle memory (I know as I am a pianist who relies on finger muscle memory too much.) On top of muscle memory, we often develop instinctive behaviours to protect and maintain the routine we have acquired by habit.
During the BSF discussion, I began to think that the question Jesus asked the sick man really was a type of approach that disturbs routine and brings consciousness back to the reason for the mindless boring routine in the first place.
So I imagined Jesus’ question, appropriate for the circumstances, could be generalised into a form that rings true to today: “Why are you here?”
Why am I in BSF?
Why am I attending this church?
Why am I involved in this community group?
Why am I still studying and chasing another degree?
Why am I considering to come out of retirement and back into church ministry?
Then it gets deeper.
Why do I believe in God?
Why do I believe in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God the Son?
Why do I believe in the Holy Spirit?
“Why are you here?” is the first and foremost question asked of the men at the start of an XCC event. The XCC weekend shakes a man to his core, leaves him bare and makes him open to God-moments. Therein lies the intersection. The BSF study question, as did the XCC question, brought me to ask myself again today: “Why am I here, right now?”
Jesus called the man’s attention back to why he was there in the first place. Jesus took the man out of his defeatist daily routine. Jesus brought the man’s mind back to focus on his life’s aim – to be healed.
I pray that God will always keep me focused on what I do, understanding to the extent that I am able, why I do the things that I do.
(Existentialism and the faith is a topic for another post for another time.)
Perhaps it is best to break out of the routine – even the routine of giving expected answers to Bible questions – and seek instead the richness of life’s journey with God laid bare to us in the freshness of the ancient text in Scripture.
Thank you BSF. Thank you XCC.