Eternal God, who has made us wholly who we are, help us to see clearly where we have strayed and guide us back to your path to eternal life, through your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Do you want to be made well?
The gospel passage for the day is the story of Jesus healing a man who was sitting next to the pool of Beth-zatha, or Bethsaida as its also known as. The tradition about the pool was that it had healing properties when the water was stirred up and that the first person, or first few people in it would be healed. The tradition specifically states that an angel did the stirring up, mostly because the timing of the water's movements were said to be unpredictable. The pool was associated with one of the healing cults of the time and people who were ailing would go sit at the pool and wait for the water to be stirred up and tried to be the first in. Beth-zatha translates to house of mercy or grace. Troubled water was a sign of mercy/grace for the people who went there.
The man that Jesus talks to in today's story had been sick for thirty eight years. We don't know how long he has been hanging out at Beth-zatha or even if Jesus talks to others waiting on the waters of the pool. What I keep coming back to in this passage is the exchange between the two men. Jesus asks him, Do you want to be made well? Jesus shows this man a lot of respect in asking him this question. Normally when people are sick in any way we assume that they want to be made well. However my experience working in a hospital as a chaplain taught me that wellness isn't really on some people's bucket lists. They are happy with their afflictions. They get to use them as a way to complain and to get out of social responsibilities. So Jesus asks him, do you want to be made well?
And interestingly enough, the man doesn't really answer the question. He doesn't say yes or no, he gives an excuse. "I have no one to help me," he says. He has no family or friends who will help him. How many times do we want to wallow in our own pity and enjoy our pity parties? Many times we want to stay the victim and not have to take responsibility for the things of our lives. If the man was lying there day after day and not doing much, we can wonder what responsibility he had, if any. And he had been ill for thirty eight years! That is a long time. He probably doesn't even remember what it is like to be a productive member of society, to be held responsible, and to take care of himself. The man makes no apologies for being slow, he just acknowledges the truth of the matter. He effectively points out that not only is he sick, his social situation is unhealthy. He has no friends or family, which was not a good way to be in a very community and family oriented society. Jesus accepts his acknowledgement and in his compassion and love for the man, challenges him. He challenges him to take the risk of standing up and being made well.
Do you want to be made well? I keep coming back to this question. It's not one that we necessarily ask ourselves because we assume that the answer is yes. But the answer isn't always yes. I don't know about you but in my time I have had times of not wanting to be made well, mostly because of the effort it would take, because of the things that I was holding onto that would have to go, and the simple fact of having to change. Change does not come easy to us humans all the time. We get comfortable with our status quo and our habits, even if they are the very things destroying our lives. Sometimes we know what it would take to be made well and we shake our heads and quietly continue on with what we know. Destructive relationships, relationships without good boundaries, habits of talking down to ourselves, giving into anxieties and worries are all demons we know well. And we would rather keep these than go into the unknown of wellness.
Wellness involves so much more than just physical health. It's social, emotional, physical, occupational, environmental, financial, spiritual, mental health. Most of us are pretty adept at handling our lives with at least one of those areas a little out of whack. But we know when all of them or more than half of them stray far from balance and we start losing control and careening all over the place. Sometimes we don't even know the true cause of our out of control-ness. Sometimes our stress in one area of life leads to symptoms in another and as much as we try to just treat the symptoms, we are not going to get well. If you go into a book store and you see the self help section, you know what I am talking about. All the television shows that proclaim healthiness by reducing stress. We are the number one killers of ourselves, by not taking care of ourselves. Healing of our emotions sometimes is the hardest part. But many times we let those fester and they cause problems in other areas of our lives.
Do you want to be made well? Healing is hard business. Sometimes we want to languish in the pain and the helplessness because then we don't have to take responsibility for what we do or say. What is this man going to do after he gets well? He is stepping out into the unknown. It's a transition. Change. Transformation. He doesn't say that he wants to, he gives an excuse. Does he want to? Maybe. Granted, Jesus doesn't just tell him that he is well. He tells him to stand up. That would be hard. That would require some courage because I'm sure it takes him a while to stand up. But he does it. And at once he is made well. Somewhere between what Jesus says and him picking up his mat, he is well. On God's day no less. Transformation typically happens with Jesus on the sabbath because every encounter with God changes us. I am not sure if this is just a literary device of the author of John, but almost all of the healing that Jesus does in John's gospel was on the sabbath day. I'm not sure if that’s because Jesus only healed on the sabbath or because John only decided to include stories from those days or if John was on to something. Jesus healing on the sabbath is a great literary device, because what better day could one be healed then on God's day?
The sabbath is the perfect time to be made well. Today is our time with God. That's when we come together here, to accept God's grace in our lives. But it does take change. Do you want to be made well? Are you willing to change your life for God's wholeness and wellness to enter in and transform your life? Because there is no treading lightly here. It's all or nothing. Stand up, take up your mat, and walk. Between standing and picking up his mat, he was made well. He could have not believed Jesus and not taken the chance on trying to stand up. We all have that chance when encountering Jesus. We don't have to believe him. We don't have to follow him. But think of the difference Jesus made in that man's life because he took that risk. He changed. He was made well. Jesus comes to you today, asking you, do you want to be made well? I encourage you to take the risk, take the chance, stand up. That is part of what we do when we stand up and walk to the altar during communion. We are taking that chance on Jesus making us well. We are putting our faith and belief in action and sharing that with everyone else here. We want to be made well. We want to be made whole. We want to change our lives, nay, we want to be transformed.
By the grace of God, that is what happens here today. We are made well by Jesus.