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. 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.
So help me out here.
I’m plenty supportive of the bracelet, WWJD (What would Jesus do?). The world would be a better place if folks paused to ask that question more often. In this political season, I wish our candidates were spending more time on the question. But the fact is, sometimes the Jesus we meet in the gospels doesn’t do or say what I would script.
That’s probably providential. Case in point: yesterday’s gospel (above), Jesus addresses a man who’d been ill for 38 years. Not 38 minutes (that would be enough to do me in.) Not 38 days or months. 38 years. Jesus approaches and asks: Do you want to be made well?
The gospels are full of stories of Jesus healing people. Sometimes he reaches out to people with a healing touch. Sometimes he responds to a persistent request for healing, someone shouting from the sidelines. Sometimes he heals without seeming to know it (a woman in a crowd reaches out to touch the edge of his robe and experiences healing). Sometimes he heals because faithful friends come forward on behalf of someone else. Good friends. (See Mark 2.) In the story we read yesterday, he asks the man impaired for almost four decades whether he wants to be made well.
Is there any other answer but yes?
Taking the passage at face value, apparently there is some question that this man would wish to be made well. We don’t know much about him. I don’t want to turn this into a blame-the-victim story. But I’m wondering if there is a parallel/parable here for us? The particulars of this man aside, how does this question sound to us: Do you wish to be made well?
It may be that the path to wellness signals change. None of us (especially Episcopalians) are big fans of change. As the social critic Dilbert put it: Change is good. You go first. It’s been interesting to discover in the work we do with congregations, work focused on spiritual growth, that people often don’t expect or want much to be different. There’s not much expectation of such a possibility, especially as far as engagement with the church is concerned.
But parish ministry has taught me at least one thing. Everybody has a need for healing. Those needs surface in a variety of ways: healing of body, mind, spirit, relationship, memory. The needs are individual and corporate and if the current dispiriting political discourse is demonstrating anything, it is that there is a need for healing in our common life.
So this Monday morning, making your way through routine, maybe doing things you always do in the way you always do them, perhaps limited or bound by some particular need for healing, take a simple step. Think about whether you are open to something new. Invite Jesus’ power into that place. See what happens. Take up your mat.
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