Before we get too far into our Lenten journey, I wish to draw your attention to something which runs completely and totally contrary to the spirit of what we are focusing on during the coming weeks.
Not too long ago, Joyce Meyer opened up about the loss of her brother. He was a Marine Corps veteran who became addicted to drugs and saw his life spiral downhill through a series of bad choices and poor circumstances to a tragic death. After having been missing for thirty days, he was found dead in an abandoned building. He left behind only a few personal effects.
So how did Joyce Meyer respond to this? She went to a conference of prominent church leaders and used his tragic story to draw a contrast between herself and him, and make a point about a life of self-pity versus a life of diligence and faith. The kicker: “My personal effects and his personal effects are sadly different. What are your personal effects going to be when your time’s up?”
I thought a person’s life did NOT consist in the abundance of his/her possessions. According to Joyce Meyer, I am wrong. I will let you draw your own conclusions about this.
Her text was John 5. In this story, Jesus meets a paralytic lying beside a pool near the temple in Jerusalem. This pool was frequented by the lame, the blind, and the paralyzed. It was widely believed that every once in a while, an angel would stir the waters of this pool, and that the first one in after the pool was stirred would be healed of whatever illness they had. This paralytic had been lying beside the pool for thirty-eight years when he met Jesus.
She keyed in upon the paralytic’s response to Jesus: ”I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:7) She read into this the idea that the paralytic was lazy and filled with self-pity, that he had the capacity to at least wiggle over to the edge of the pool but preferred to stay where he was, wallowing in his self-pity. She likened this to her brother: “He just wanted to lay by the pool another year, feel sorry for himself, blame somebody and remain crippled.”
But despite experiencing a difficult childhood which included sexual abuse from her father, Meyer chose a different path. As mentioned previously, Meyer read into this story the idea that the paralytic had the capacity to at least wiggle himself over to the edge of the pool. Applying this to her own life: “I got tired of laying by the pool and I decided to wiggle.”
The application? As the Christian Post writeup puts it: “God operates on the seed principle of faith…. No matter how pathetic the attempt is, if we try our best then God will bless us, [Meyer] said.”
There is a classic prosperity gospel script at work here. First, draw a stark dramatic/emotional contrast that your audience is sure to latch on to, so that they can’t help seeing who the “winners” and the “losers” are. Then, select a Biblical story or two that backs you up. Then, depart from the Biblical story to make your own point, exalting the “winners” while slamming the “losers”. Finally, close it all out by motivating your audience to be like the “winners” by trying harder, doing more, giving more, etc.
The only possible connection between the story in John 5 and Meyer’s brother is the paralytic’s complaint, interpreted by Meyer in remarkably American, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps fashion. But if you read this story for yourself, you will notice that there is nothing whatsoever about the paralytic’s faith and willingness to “wiggle”, or lack thereof. Instead, Jesus shows up and the paralytic tells his sad story. Jesus completely and totally ignores it and tells him to get up and walk. And–get this–he DOES!!!!!
Meyer is not interested in promoting Jesus, but rather in that American brand of self-effort and positive thinking leading to opulent prosperity, with a little Jesus thrown into the mix just for good measure. Look what we have achieved through our faith and determination. And if you will get off your lazy, sorry ass and “wiggle” your way out of the mire and show yourself as one who is worthy of God’s attention and blessing, then you can achieve this too.
Jesus announced “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That includes the poor, the suffering, the outcast, those of us who just don’t have any “wiggle” left in us at all, those who are powerless to move even a muscle to get into the water when the angel stirs it–whether we want to or not.
By the way, people, that includes ALL of us.
If you had the opportunity to participate in an Ash Wednesday service a couple of days back, you received ashes on your forehead. These ashes represent your connection to all of humanity–that you are dust, and you shall one day return to dust. Nothing that you are or have done will survive beyond your dying day. Unless Christ deigns to rescue us from our tragic state. This he did for the paralytic in John 5. And this he did for all of us at the Cross, which we will commemorate in just a few weeks.
Nothing that the paralytic said or did could have motivated Jesus to respond to him as he did. And nothing we do could have motivated Jesus in any way to show his graciousness to us through the Cross.
Don’t let Joyce Meyer fool you into thinking that God will reward your faith, determination, willingness to “wiggle”, or whatever. Don’t let her fool you into thinking that God has blessed her with all that success and that He will bless you in the same way if you just “wiggle”, or that even if He did it would matter enough to alter the fact that you are a mortal, fallen human being who, but for Christ and the Cross, is doomed to perish.