Some years ago I worked in central London with an organization that reached out to people living on the streets. For most, all we could offer was food, clean clothes and a listening ear, but every now and then we met someone who wanted to find a new life. We ran a halfway house with a simple rule of life where a few people at a time could relearn how to live indoors.
In John 5, festival scenes in the holy city are juxtaposed with the view of five porticoes full of invalids. Imagine dropping by the nursing home on your way to Christmas Eve services. One place is festive, filled with pretty clothes, color, light and music. The other location features crutches, canes and people who cannot hide their desperate need for healing.
In the hospital emergency room, someone accidentally bumps into an aide carrying a bedpan, and urine sloshes onto the floor. After several hours of waiting, my mother is finally admitted. I pay for TV, but she does not have the strength to push the buttons on the remote. She can’t find the red button to call the nurse either. She tells me that last night she was taken down to a dungeon where she lay awake in terror. Now she wonders why someone left a black Scottish terrier in the corner of her room.
The vase had once been a fine antique with a cream glaze and blue Japanese design, but now it was damaged. It stood amid the finer pieces, a mass of cracks, crudely glued together with what was obviously the wrong type of adhesive—everywhere the 20 or so pieces met one another, glue had bubbled out yellow as it dried, creating the effect of scabrous scars.“Why don’t you get rid of that one?” I asked my mother. “Never,” she replied. “It’s the most valuable piece of pottery we have in this house.” Then she told me the story of the cracked vase.
Here is a lovely parable—all the more lovely considering that it comes from the chief rabbi of Great Britain’s Orthodox Jews. A young man, having troubled over the question, asks his father: Why does the Messiah not come?
I recently began consulting with three seminary faculties that have gone through significant changes and crises in the past three years. These crises involved retirements, staff sexual misconduct, building programs, faculty-administration conflicts, curriculum changes and financial strains.
They both were angry, and they had a right to be angry. Judy’s mother was chronically ill, and would be for the rest of her life. As an only child Judy felt responsible, and she did her duty, caring for her mother without assistance. She counted the cost all the way, exhausting people around her by eliciting sympathy from them, and then moving on to others. Judy talked often about what kind of help she needed, but she never actually looked for help. She had decided that God had willed her a difficult life, and that nothing would be good again until after her mother died and Judy was relieved of her burden.
Christians throughout the ages have proclaimed that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8). The implicit teaching is that by being eternally the same, he is therefore divine: a Rock of Ages and, like the Father of Lights, beyond the shadow of changing. He is.
Toward the end of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a powerful novel about slavery and its aftermath, one of the characters reflects on the impact one woman had on his life: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”