Easter 6C              May 22, 2022                John 5:1-9

 

Jesus visits this outdoor infirmary at the Sheep Gate pool in Jerusalem. He finds a man there who has been lying on a mat for 38 years. He approaches him with a question. No introductions. No small talk. No sermon. Just a question, “Do you want to be made well?”

 

I don’t know about you, but that question makes me a bit uncomfortable. How would you feel if you were unwell for nearly four decades, and a stranger came along one day and asked if you really wanted to get better? Implying that you were somehow invested in your brokenness. That you had a stake in it. That your identity was so wrapped up in your weakness that you couldn’t imagine your life any other way.

 

How would you feel? How would you respond? Would you hear pure insult in that question? Would you hear a faint echo of the truth? What is interesting is that this man doesn’t answer the question. The man doesn’t say “yes” to Jesus. Instead he gets defensive. He explains the mechanics about how this all works. Tradition has it that an angel visits the pool at random times, stirring up the water, and giving it healing properties. And the first person to step into the pool after the angel disturbs it, receives healing. “I have no one to put me in the pool”, the man says, “someone else always steps in ahead of me.” He makes a compelling case for the down-right unfairness of the world. He invites pity. In short, he avoids answering the question Jesus actually asks, which isn’t a question about the man’s circumstances at all, but a question about his heart and his desires: “What do you want?”

 

Has Jesus ever asked you this question? How have you answered it in the past? How would you answer it today? Do you know? 

 

For me, the question stings because I know exactly what it is like to say I want healing, I want freedom, and not quite mean it. I know what it is like to cling to brokenness because it is familiar and safe. I know how to benefit from the very things that cause me harm.

 

The question also stings because the very idea that God cares about what I want … that God is curious about my desires and wants me to recognize and articulate them … blows me away.

If I’m willing to sit with the uncomfortable truths at the heart of this story, maybe I can come to know that Jesus’ desires for me aren’t as murky and two-sided as mine. He wants me to be made well. Period. He wants me to walk again. To thrive again. To live again. He wants to deliver me from the paralysis of my past, the baggage I carry, the fears I hold, and the laziness that keeps me from moving forward.

 

If there is anything more remarkable in this story than Jesus’ question, it is what happens after he asks it. “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Jesus tells him. And the man does exactly that. “At once,” John tells us, “the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”

 

Notice that the man never asks for healing. There is nothing in this story that indicates that he even knows who Jesus is. Notice that Jesus makes no reference to belief, as he often does. He doesn’t tell the man, “Your faith has made you well.” Because if he said that, it would be a lie. Notice that Jesus doesn’t dwell on the man’s past; he doesn’t dredge up the loss and waste of the 38 years this man can’t get back. And, finally, notice that Jesus doesn’t heal him on his terms … by helping him into the pool when the angel stirs the water. Jesus simply tells him to get up and walk. And he does.

 

What I take away from this story is that Jesus is always and everywhere in the business of making new and making well. His desire to heal is at the heart of his character. And that means that it doesn’t depend on you and me.

 

In other words, “Do you want to be made well?” is a question he will never stop asking, because his deepest desire is for our wholeness, our freedom, and our thriving, and he understands that there is painful and surgical power in the question itself. Confronting what we want … what we really want … is how the work of healing begins.