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May 7, 2010
From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.
John 5:4

Look in your church bulletin at the text of John 5:1-9 in the lectionary for this Sunday, and you won't find verse 4. No, the secretary didn't make a mistake: what you'll hear in church goes right from verse 3 to verse 5, without any explanation. This is because some authoritative ancient copies omit verse 4 -- I guess the lectionary folks figured it was a later addition. Well, maybe.

But I am not so sure. The story doesn't really make much sense without it. Here it is, with its missing verse 4:

After Jesus healed the son of the official in Capernaum, there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids-- blind, lame, and paralyzed. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "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." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

The lame man's answer to Jesus' question -- "I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up" -- makes no sense unless we already know that an angel came sometimes and stirred up the waters. Oh, now we see: all those invalids aren't sitting around the pool because it's a pleasant place to be. They're waiting for the miracle to happen, so they can hurry and be the first one in when the water begins to churn.

First come, first served. Oh -- well, that seems fair, doesn't it? Except that the stronger ones have the advantage. By the time this man had dragged himself over to the pool, someone else had gotten there first, every time. We know all about this: misfortune may come to weak and strong alike, but the strong have a head start in responding to it. And opportunity waits for us all, but the strong are better able to seize it. No, it isn't fair. Life is unfair. Even healing is unfair.

I am getting my walking shoes ready for AIDSWALK/NY. This year's walk is the 25th -- from the darkest days of the epidemic in New York in the 1980s to the dramatically different landscape of the disease today, millions of dollars have been raised by this annual walk to respond to the countless human needs it has introduced, primarily into the lives of people who would ordinarily have been too young to do anything but take their robust health for granted. We do well with it, now: many friends died in the old days. Too many to count. But now I know dozens of HIV+ people twenty and more years out from diagnosis and living well.

Of course, that's here. Here, where we have the proper medicines and the proper storage for them. Here, where a doctor isn't a day's dusty walk away. Here, where public health education has done a good job in educating us about how you get it and how to prevent it. There are places in the world in which people still think having sexual relations with a virgin will cure the disease. There are countries in Africa in which more 20 percent of the children are AIDS orphans.

Here in New York, we're doing better. But then, we were the first ones into the pool.

Can you sponsor me in the AIDSWALK? I'm not sure I can complete the whole thing, but I'm going to try. Visit or send a check made out to AIDSWALK/NY to me at 387 Middlesex Avenue, Metuchen NJ 08840. The walk is May 16th. There will be a celebration of the Eucharist in Central Park before the walk, of which I will be the celebrant. It's sponsored by Episcopal Response to AIDS,
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