Knowing that he had been lying there a long time, Jesus asked him “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)
What was the man’s malady? Apparently some sort of paralysis that left him unable to move his legs or at least able to move them only with great difficulty.
The man doesn’t point out his need for healing himself. Jesus perceives it and takes the initiative.
He was poor – the word used for mat is that used for the rough pallet used by the poor.
He was alone.
We would hope in our lives that when, if we suffer a disabling physical condition, there are others around us we can depend on. At the very least, we would hope there would be a wheelchair, a van with a lift, an elevator, a ramp into church, Social Security, social services, and vocational rehabilitation. He was paralyzed, he was poor, and he was alone. Someone should have been there to help him.
Let’s not minimize his suffering. He was doing the best he could. But he had perhaps gotten into a routine that was familiar and somewhat comforting. We all like to have a schedule:
7 amwake up. Make way to pool by9 am. Get as close as possible. Watch for bubbling of water that signals healing. Try to be the first one in the water. Go home at 5. Go to bed. Get up at7 am. Make way to pool by9 am.
There can be something very comforting about having a routine. It’s something we can build our lives around. We all need that. It’s possible to build a whole life around our suffering or illness. The alcoholic builds her life around drinks with friends. And drinks alone.
The eating disorder sufferer has his ritual of binging and recovery.
The abuser has his schedule of mounting resentment and frustration, blowing off steam by violence. Then apologies, flowers, courtship.
The abused arranges her schedule to suit his. The mounting anxiety and fear, the endurance of violence, and then the enjoyment of his courtship as he tries to get back in her good graces. “He doesn’t do it all the time, just when things are tough at work.”
Knowing that he had been lying there a long time, Jesus asked him “Do you want to be made well?”
Do either of you want to be made well? Does a society that is so willing to ignore this widespread problem want to be made well?
Jesus even asks people who are working hard at legal and admirable pursuits this question. A pastor inGeorgiawho has a ministry helping pastors have better physical and emotional health. She told this story about herself in seminar I attended recently. She said, “I was working 14 hour days, at least 6 days a week. I was letting my health and my family life suffer. I guess I didn’t realize how much. Until one night my husband confronted me, “Deb, you promised to be faithful to me when we got married, but you have broken your vows.” As I started to protest, he said “You are having an affair with the church. In the morning I’m taking the boys and we’re leaving.
The next day, sitting in their empty house, she prayed out loud. “This isn’t fair, God. I’ve done all of this for you. Sure, I don’t mind hearing people say how proud they are of their pastor, how hard she works for them and in the community. But I’ve made all these sacrifices for you. I’ve done it all for you.”
Knowing that she had been there a long time, Jesus asked her, ‘Do you want to be made well?’
The legend was that these pools had healing properties, that from time to time, they would begin to bubble, the water would swirl and that signaled that you would be healed if you could get into the water first while it was still bubbling.
So when Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be healed?” the man thought he was asking him “Why aren’t you in the water?” and so the man launches into this explanation: “Access to the healing water is limited; there are too many people between me and the water. Even if there weren’t, I have no one to help me down the steps in time.
I want to be healed, but I can’t get down into the water in time. We sort of roll our eyes with impatience while the poor guy explains all this. We know that’s not what Jesus is asking him. Just like in John 4 when Jesus offers the woman at the well living water and she thinks he means water from the well and says “You have no dipper and the well is 100 feet deep. Jesus in chp 3 tells Nicodemus he must be born from above if he wants to experience thekingdomofGod. And Nicodemus says “I can’t crawl back in to the womb and be born again- what do you mean?” The person takes Jesus literally but we, as readers, understand his spiritual meaning and enjoy feeling superior to the dim-wits who don’t.
We get that Jesus is offering this man a direct healing. We would never stand by a pool squinting to see the cure to all our ills in the bubbles while Jesus was standing right next to us. Jesus the bread of life, the light of the world, the living water, the true vine, the way the truth and the life was standing by our side.
Or would we?
To Be Continued