A couple years ago, I read the memoir of a friend who nearly died from an eating disorder. (A book I highly recommend, if you know anyone who could benefit.) One of the conversation she recorded with her counselor has stuck with me. He told her, in the midst of grappling with her need for control, that she had to decide how much she wanted to get well. The entire course of her treatment would rest on that decision. How much did she want not to die?
The question mattered. It was a question of life and death.
It mattered in this week’s encounter with Jesus, one of my favorite. Apparently, it’s not a new question.
Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city was the pool of Bethesda. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! (John 5)
This encounter with Jesus is all kinds of unexpected. He’s healed people before. He’s had them crowded around him, six people deep, and he’s had the patience and compassion to heal them all. So one would assume that, coming upon his guy who’s been there for thirty-eight years, healing would be immediate. No questions asked. It’s what Jesus does.
But questions are asked. And he waits for an answer.
“Do you want to get well?”
The answer he gets stinks. It’s filled with “But I,” “Well I,” “They didn’t” and every other kind of excuse. “Sure, mister, I’d like to get well. If everything and everybody weren’t conspiring against me.”
Can we all get an ‘amen’ to this guy? Don’t we all know the lament by heart of the poor injured soul who would stand on her feet except for all the obstacles? Have we been this man? I know I have.
God, I’d like to do that task you’re calling me to, but there’s no time….
God, I’d like to give to that cause but I don’t have the money….
God, I’d like to give up this behavior, but you don’t know how hard people make it….
God, I don’t really want to get well. I don’t really want the fullness you have for me. It’s far easier and less frightening to remain where I am, sitting by the pool, not dipping my toes in. If I’m immobilized, no one can expect anything of me.
Jesus calls that out for what it is.
Dude, you’re scared. And you can’t ever be healed if you’re too scared to be well.
Jesus could not be accused of being an enabler.
Can we kind of understand this guy? What happens if he’s healed? He has to get up. Leave everything he’s known for thirty-eight years. Find employment. A home. A life. Be responsible for his own self. That would be terrifying. All he’s known for almost forty years is this life, and it may not be the best life, but it’s known. It’s a well-worn groove he fits into, and everything else is a great, scary unknown.
How many of us live like this man? The status quo is comfortable. It’s known. It may not be the greatest; in fact, it may suck. But it’s what we know, and it’s all we know how to do. It’s easy. A full, whole, healed life is not.
I know I’m not talking to a theoretical crowd here. I know, because I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.
Jesus wants us to walk into life as He intends for us so badly. He aches for us to walk out of our old grooves, our old responses to life, our old defenses against hurt. He longs for us to get up from beside he pool and go.
But He won’t make us. We have to want to. We have to want it more than we want to stay comfortable.
Is God asking you today if you want to get well in some area of your life? I don’t necessarily mean physically. (Don’t even get me started on my feelings about the magical health and wealth gospel. I do not believe we can all be well if we just want it enough and believe it enough. That is hurtful garbage that no one has the right to spread in God’s kingdom among his people. God does not owe us healing, nor do we barter for it with our level of belief. Mini-rant end.)
I mean where does He want you to step out of your fear and into a more full life with him?
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8.15)
Do you want to get well? Maybe one of the most important questions Jesus ever asked in a first encounter. Maybe the most important question we could ask today.