When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
John 5:6 (NIV)
Thirty-seven years he’s been an invalid. His family carried him to the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and dropped him off to chill with all the other handicapped people.
Archaeologists have identified the place. I’ve been there. Historians tell us that the handicapped would often congregate around pools and springs in ancient times. Gentile shrines of that day, dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, often contained pools. The pool of Bethesda was said to have had healing properties. It was believed that when the water in the pool appeared to have been “stirred by an angel” the first person into the water would be healed. Archaeologists say the pool was roughly the size of a football field. Imagine how many handicapped and lame people would be along side waiting for an angel to stir the water. Besides, it was the Passover, and hundreds of thousands of spiritual pilgrims were in the city that week.
There he sat on his mat in the crowd, as he had been doing every day for…how many years? I have to believe he knew the regulars. They were his homies, his posse, the other “broken” people who were a drain on their families and society in general. The lame, paralyzed, blind, deaf, and dumb masses had all been told that something was wrong with them. Not just physically, but spiritually.
“You must have sinned.”
“Your parents must have sinned.”
“Cursed by God.”
So they would gather and wait for Gabriel to stir the drink. Had anyone really ever been healed by dropping in the drink when they spied a ripple? What if they couldn’t swim? Archaeologists say the pool was 20 feet deep. Are you really going to throw yourself in to drown? I don’t think there was a lifeguard.
Into this scene walks Jesus. He’s still relatively unknown in Jerusalem, especially among the masses of Passover pilgrims. He walks up to the man and asks…
“Do you want to get well?”
On the surface, it appears a stupid question to ask a handicapped person.
The further I’ve progressed in my Life journey the more I’ve come to appreciate the endless depth of that question.
“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has become your identity. These are your people. This pool is your home. Do you really want to leave the only life you’ve known for almost 40 years?
“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has made you special all these years. No pressure to provide. Everyone is required to care for you. Do you really want to go back to being just another regular schmo like the minions who pass by the pool and pretend not to see you every day?
“Do you want to get well?” Because the moment you step back in your family’s house they will say, “You’ve got to get a job tomorrow morning and start contributing instead of taking from the family all these years.” Seriously, do you want to labor every day in the quarry with your brothers, or would you rather just hang here with your homies?
“Do you want to get well?” Because there’s all sorts of passive aggressive power in playing the victim card.
“Do you want to get well?” Because being an oppressed minority can be an addictively powerful drug that justifies all sorts of nasty thoughts, feelings, words, and behaviors.
“Do you want to get well?” Because it’s really more comfortable to remain as you are rather than face the challenge of becoming the healthy, true self God is asking you to be.
Perhaps it’s not such a stupid question after all. Perhaps this is the question I should ask myself in all the stubbornly broken places of my own life.
Jesus heals the man. Reaching down to give the man a hand, Jesus says, “Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus lifts the man to stand on suddenly sturdy legs, then slips anonymously into the bustling crowd of passover pilgrims.
The man is immediately condemned by the religious leaders for breaking code 356, paragraph 6, sub-section 2, line 8 of the religious law book: Carrying your mat on the sabbath “day of rest.”
I mulled that over in the quiet this morning. The religious rule-keepers are suffering from a very different sickness and paralysis of Spirit. It is, nevertheless, very real. Completely ignoring the miraculous power that has been displayed and the life-changing event that the man has experienced, they squint their beady little self-righteous eyes to pick at a minor infraction of their fundamentalist rule-book.
I’ve observed along my own journey individuals and groups with this same spiritual illness.
“Do you want to get well?”
In the quiet this morning, I’m considering the possibility that I know more people who would answer the question with either “No,” or “But, I’m not sick” than the number of those I know who would sincerely answer, “Yes, I do.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.