I am not going to lie. It has been a heavy time, one marked with significant loss and grief. And so, it stung when I read the lectionary passage for the week (the lectionary is a pre-selected group of Bible passages for the year, a resource that many people and churches use). I think my exact thought was, “are you kidding me?” John 5:1-9-The setting is Jerusalem, near a pool by the Sheep’s Gate. In the five porticoes by the pool, people who are chronically sick and disabled lie waiting. Rumour has it that an angel visits the pool at random times, stirs up the water, and gives it healing properties. The first person to step into the pool after the angel disturbs it, receives healing. Jesus visits this place, finds a man lying by the pool who has been sick for thirty-eight years, and approaches him with a question, no introduction or small talk first: “Do you want to be made well?”
If it were me, and I had been sick for almost four decades, I think I would look at the stranger and likely say, “seriously?”, possibly feeling like he was inferring I didn’t want to be well enough. I notice that the man doesn’t answer the question with “yes.” Even after thirty-eight years of serious suffering, he doesn’t say yes! Instead, he explains “I have no one to put me into the pool” and describes the unfairness at work, “While I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” He avoids answering the question Jesus actually asks, which makes me think this isn’t simply a question about the man’s circumstances, but a question that goes even deeper, “What do you want?”
For me, the question resonates because I am moved by the very idea that God cares about what I want, is curious about my desires and invites me to recognize and articulate them. If I’m willing to sit with this story, maybe I can come to believe that Jesus actually wants me to be made well, to deliver me from my own baggage and fear. He invites me to want and to answer, “YES”.
As I shared all of this with the people of The Dale, I began to weep. I wept because there are so many areas of life where I am desperate for healing, both for myself and others. I wept because death is a thing. I wept because three people have died in the last two weeks and on this day five years ago, I lost my mother. I wept because of who I was speaking to- friends who know what it is to suffer and long for relief. One person responded to my tears by asking, “do you want a hug?” As she enfolded me, she patted my back and said, “this hug is from your mom”.
What happens after Jesus asks the question? He says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” and the man does exactly that. What?! There is no indication in the story that the man has any idea who Jesus is, nor does he ever specifically ask for healing. What he really wanted was for someone to put him in the pool, and yet Jesus has other plans. Honestly, I don’t get it. I want to scream, “do more of this. NOW!”.
What I want to take away from this story is that it is possible for things to be made new and well, even if it doesn’t look or happen the way I expect. I think the desire to heal is intrinsic to the character of Jesus. According to this story, it didn’t even depend on the actions of the man by the pool. “Do you want to be made well?” is a question that will always be asked, because the desire is for our wholeness, freedom, and thriving. I don’t know if I always believe that to be true, or that I can even articulate the deep longing I have for all of those things. This world is messed up and I continue to sag under the weight of seemingly unanswered prayers. I feel challenged though to keep considering the question posed by Jesus. I wonder if naming what I really want is a place where the work of healing can begin.