Do you want to be well? Do you live as if you do? Because we do not drift into wellness–physical, spiritual or otherwise.
The fifth chapter of John’s gospel opens with a jarring story. Jesus encounters a man lying beside a pool that, according to superstition, held healing powers–the pool of Bethesda. The word Bethesda means House of Mercy.
He learns just a fragment of the man’s story (although you could argue that Jesus, being Divine, knew the man’s story before he even met him). That fragment was this: he had been lying there by the pool for 38 years. Nearly four decades!
Still, Jesus’ question doesn’t seem overly compassionate. He asks him, “Do you want to get well?” An odd question to pose to someone who’s been crippled most of his life. Or is it?
Now, the printed page does not provide clues on tone of voice. The writer adds no adverb to clue us in (such as “sarcastically”). We don’t know the subtext: whether it was “you poor thing” or “come on, what’s your problem?”
But the man’s answer does offer us insight. Instead of saying “yes, I want to get well,” he launches a litany of excuses that dance dangerously close to whining. It’s not his fault, it’s everyone else’s fault. But I do not imagine Jesus being sarcastic or impatient. Yet he refuses to coddle. He simply wants to know: do you want to get well?
In many ways, this is the question we must answer with our lives every day. Do we want to get well? Because we will not drift into wellness. We must decide that is where we want to go. Even if we are not lying crippled by a pool, we are either getting better daily, or we are not. We are expecting miracles, or not?
I think Jesus’ question to this crippled man actually began the process of healing. But as it does for many of us, this process took some time. It is a question that can begin our healing: do you want to get well? Do we dare to say yes, and embrace the challenges that living a spiritually and emotionally healed life will bring?
Jesus questions him, he makes excuses. Jesus heals him (physically), he walks away. But then religious leaders question him–who healed you on the Sabbath? He again makes excuses. “It’s not my fault, it was that man who healed me.” In many ways, his answer shows that he was not fully healed, from an emotional or spiritual standpoint. He was still blaming others, still making excuses. He was still, in ways that truly matter, not well, despite the fact that his legs were functional again. His soul was still in need of deeper healing.
A little while later, Jesus finds him and again, refuses to take the route of enabling. “Stop sinning,” he says, in no uncertain terms. In other words, “snap out of it. Embrace the truth: you’re healed. Life like that’s true.” He takes the healing to the next level–the soul level.
The man’s own issues, his tendency to blame others for his problems, get in the way of his complete healing. Yes, he can walk. But is he truly free? Only when he decides that he will be.
How much is blaming others getting in the way of your healing–whether spiritual, emotional or physical? How many excuses keep you from moving forward?