Do You Want to Be Healed?
Trapped just on the edge of healing for thirty-eight years.
It would be like living next door to a pharmacy but every time you go to it to try and get your life-saving cancer medication, it’s closed.
You are condemned to a painful and debilitating physical condition that may eventually kill you, because the means of getting treatment lies just beyond your reach.
This is the unenviable situation of the man in our gospel story today.
For thirty-eight years he has lived in the porticoes surrounding the Pool of Beth-zatha, and every time he tries to reach the pool and receive its healing waters, someone else beats him to it.
Can you imagine the frustration? The despair?
We get so little detail about this man that we have to speculate and use our imaginations to try and understand his incomprehensible situation.
First of all, what kind of medical condition did he have?
We don’t know, but we know that the other people at the pool were described as invalids and named as blind, lame, and/or paralyzed.
These are people who are limited in their mobility.
We know he can move at least a bit, because he keeps trying to get down to the pool, but he can’t ever make it fast enough. He may have only been able to crawl.
We’re immediately tempted to question how hard he really was trying to get down there and be healed.
That temptation is reinforced by Jesus’ own question to the man: “Do you want to be healed?”
We don’t know, because this man never answers directly, yes or no.
He basically says, “Well, I’ve been trying.”
Is that an excuse? Or is it a legitimate description of his disability? We don’t know.
But either way, we need to stop our judgement in its tracks and realize how very much we are like this man ourselves.
If we take the possibility that this man wasn’t really trying to get well, that he’d cobbled together a decent enough life as a beggar, living off the generosity of others, we need to know we’re the same, we just struggle to see it in ourselves.
I guarantee you every single person in this room has some situation in our lives wherein we could take positive action to change it, and we’re just not, because we’re comfortable in our problem.
If we took action to fix things, we’d have to change.
For now, the pain of staying the same is less than the pain of trying to change.
Maybe it’s a toxic relationship.
Maybe it’s a job we’re no longer invested in.
Maybe it’s an apology we don’t want to make.
Maybe it’s our health, just like this man.
Suddenly thirty-eight years doesn’t seem like so long, when we look at some of our own bad habits we’ve never seriously sought healing for our entire lives.
And what if it’s the other way around?
What if this man has been honestly trying to get down to that pool, giving it all he has every day for thirty-eight years?
Well, then we have two problems. First of all, has not one single person in this man’s community offered to help him this entire time?
Has he rejected their help?
Has he simply failed to ask? Is he stubbornly self-sufficient?
Or is he simply so unpleasant he has alienated everyone who might possibly help him?
And even people who don’t know him—all those other people who got healed at the pool, who beat him down there to the waters, who were suddenly strong and healthy again—did not one of them in thirty-eight years think of helping him down themselves in gratitude for their own healing?
Again, before we start to throw stones, we need to examine these dynamics within ourselves.
Sometimes we are generous and eager to help others, ready out of thanksgiving for our own blessings or a simple upwelling of love, to give and assist and care for someone else in need.
And sometimes we’re not.
Sometimes we ask for help when we need it.
We invest in other people and then later give thanks that we can turn to them when it’s our turn to be down and out, relying on our community and our friends when the chips are down.
And sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we get trapped in our own pride or embarrassment and infinitely magnify our own problems because we can’t bear to ask for help, to let anyone see our weakness.
Once again, suddenly thirty-eight years of not making any progress at all seems to make a little more sense.
This poor man in this story so far has been nothing but a negative object lesson to us.
We could title his life: How To Do Everything Wrong and Make No Progress At All.
Or, How To Waste Your Life and Spend It In Pain in Thirty-Eight Short Years.
But what he’s doing is trying to solve an old problem with an old solution.
Every day he tries to get down to that pool, and every day he fails.
Every day, we try to have a meaningful life of love and giving and joy, and some weeks it feels like every day, we fail.
Do any of you ever feel like that’s the case in your life?
We might need to consider that we’re making the same mistake as this man, trying to solve an old problem with an old solution.
What types of old solutions do we use in our lives that we stubbornly refuse to recognize aren’t working?
Well, there are plenty to choose from.
Sometimes it’s anger.
Sometimes it’s food.
Sometimes it’s shopping or gossip or Facebook or workaholism.
Manipulation of others, shortcuts through the gray areas of ethics and integrity, taking our loved ones for granted and treating them poorly.
Anything we do that helps us avoid emotion, avoid authentic relationship, avoid quiet and prayer and vulnerability—that’s one more day we’re dragging ourselves down to that pool, and one more day we’re not going to make it.
What this man needs is a radical solution, and that radical solution is Jesus Christ.
Not help getting down to the water, that’s the old strategy, that’s just banging his head against a brick wall.
We don’t need help banging our heads against a wall in a new and more efficient manner.
We need Jesus to break through that wall and turn our world upside down.
We need to be ambushed by Jesus, just like the man in this story, struck by sudden and unexpected healing that changes us from the inside out.
And here’s the remarkable thing about this story.
All too often we impose conditions on God, because we like to impose conditions on one another.
Well, I’ll clean up the kitchen for my partner tonight because he took out the trash.
I’ll invite my in-laws for Memorial Day if they don’t talk about money or politics.
I’ll sign up on the ministry bulletin board in the church if the sermons aren’t too boring this month.
All too often we turn our relationships into capitalistic exchanges of value, buying and selling love in the dark alleys of our hearts.
But God doesn’t work that way. At all.
We see it in this story by the number of things missing.
People talk about salvation as though it has to be earned, either by good deeds or having the right liturgical checklist or saying magic words about having a personal relationship with Christ.
But look how Jesus approaches this man in this story. It is entirely without the man’s invitation, and Jesus requires nothing of him.
Jesus seeks him out to heal him.
Look at what’s missing in this story.
In the miracle stories, usually the person needing healing comes to Jesus.
We have Blind Bartimaeus shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
We have the hemorrhaging woman following him in the crowd and reaching out to catch the hem of his cloak.
We have the centurion and the Syrophoenician woman asking him directly for help.
Not the man in our story today. He didn’t seek Jesus out.
He was still trying to do it on his own, still doggedly inching his way toward that pool every day.
Jesus comes to find him and asks him if he wants help.
Then we notice the next missing ingredient in this story.
Usually, Jesus says something to the person like, “Your faith has made you well.”
We find out later this man didn’t even know who Jesus was, much less have faith in him.
And Jesus heals him anyway.
And then we have the third missing ingredient.
In other healing stories, Jesus tells people to follow him.
And the man doesn’t follow Jesus. He takes up his mat and walks, but after one later conversation with Jesus, appears to go about his life.
There are literally no requirements for healing from Jesus, not even wanting it or asking for it!
Jesus will never impose it on us—he asks the man, “Do you want to be healed?”
But Jesus was the one who sought him out.
And Jesus seeks us out.
Apparently he doesn’t need our faith or even our discipleship. He just wants to care for us and love us and save us.
Now, that doesn’t mean that having faith and following Jesus are not important.
They are in fact the very means of taking that initial healing and growing it into something beyond our imagining, that benefits not just us but the world around us.
But the point I want you to take away from this story is that all the giving is from God’s side.
God is giving and giving and giving.
God cannot wait to give everything away for us, to us, in us.
God gives God’s very self to us, whether we ask for it or not, whether we admit we need it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we follow up with a commitment in return or not.
The task of our spiritual lives is to quit breaking God’s heart by refusing to receive God’s gifts, but let grace break down all the walls in our hearts until we too are made into the very means of God giving to others, through us.
Jesus searches us out, hunts us down, comes to our terrible thirty-eight year predicaments and asks us: “Do you want to be healed?”
He ambushes us with miracles of love and grace and life, dropping everything else to seek us out and give us himself.
No questions asked.
We can be as clueless as this poor man in our story, and still we will find ourselves like him, suddenly able to take up our mat and walk, renewed in strength and promise and potential.
It might take three years or thirty eight years or a hundred and thirty eight years.
But you need to know: Jesus is hunting for you.
Jesus is out to get you.
Jesus will not rest until he captures you.
But not for judgement or punishment.
It is the burning desire of his heart to find you and to heal you.
So as you inch your way down to that pool every day, fighting the same losing battles with yourself and others, stop for a moment and listen.
Listen for the question that will change your life: “Do you want to be healed?”
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