Do You Want to Be Made Well?

May 22, 2022/John 5:1-9

He had been ill for thirty-eight years.  John doesn’t say what was wrong with the man, just that he had been ill for thirty-eight years.  Ill, and lying near the pool with other invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed, John writes.  So maybe this man also was blind, or lame, or paralyzed.  It doesn’t say.  Whatever his ailment, he had suffered from it for thirty-eight years.  A long time to be sick.  A long time to be feeble.  How many of those years had he lingered by the pool, hoping to feel the healing waters at just the right moment, at just the second when the angel stirred them, gave them curative powers?  Maybe all thirty-eight years.  Maybe only half that time – still a long time to lie around waiting for a miracle.

“Do you want to be made well?”

We would answer on the man’s behalf, “Of course he wants to be made well!  Who wouldn’t?”  But with the man’s the answer we begin to understand the validity of the question.  “I can’t get to the water.  No one is around to help me.  Everybody else rushes by me and beats me to the water.”

After thirty-eight years, wouldn’t you think he’d have figured it out?  Settled on a way to be first, to linger near the pool’s edge where he could perhaps just roll right in at the opportune time?  Or maybe convinced a friend to linger with him, to lift him up and accompany him to the water’s edge when it was time?  Over the course of thirty-eight years, wouldn’t you have figured out some way to be made well?

“Do you want to be made well?”

John tells us Jesus knew the man had been lying there a long time.  He knew this man’s story – knew he’d just lain there year after year, with no plan or strategy to achieve the healing he seemed to want.  Or did he?  Did he want it?  Certainly not badly enough to plan a course of action, to ask for help.

He doesn’t even ask for help from Jesus.  Some commentators assume the man didn’t know Jesus.  I find that hard to believe.  Already, Jesus had performed miracles of healing that caused many to believe.  So famous had Jesus already become that a royal official in Capernaum sought Jesus out to heal his son, who was at the point of death.  “He went and begged him,” John writes.

But the man by the pool?  No.  No begging for healing.  No shouts for attention.  “Over here, Jesus!  Save me, Jesus!”  As he had done for some number of years, the man just lay there.  Passive.  No more effort to attract Jesus’ attention than to get into the healing water.

“Do you want to be made well?”

Most of the stories of Jesus’ healing activity reflect the faith of the person Jesus heals.  People sought him out because they believed in his power.  People asked for his help because they had faith he could save them.

This man exhibits no such belief, no such faith.  Jesus seeks him out; Jesus takes the initiative.

And after he is made well?  After Jesus tells him to just stand up, to take his mat and walk, does he have a sudden conversion?  Does faith reach out and grab him by the throat and course through his body?

Not really.

In later verses, the Judeans tell the man to stop walking around carrying his mat.  It is the sabbath, and he is violating it.  No exclamations of joy at his healing, just a sharp correction.  Put that mat down; you’re violating the sabbath.  Listen how the man responds:

“The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”

Do you want to be made well?

How often do we fumble around when faced with that question?  Do you want to be made well?  Do you want to step into the truth that will free you?  Do you want to do the things you know you must do to be truly well?  Do you want to be made well?

The man would encounter Jesus again, not because he went looking for this man who had healed him with a simple command, but because Jesus found him.  Even then, the man takes no initiative, says no words to convey his gratitude or shock at having been cured.  Thirty-eight years!  Wouldn’t you think he’d have been searching for Jesus after he disappeared into the crowd?  Wouldn’t you think he’d have something to say to him?  Even just a simple thank you.  This is the only time in scripture that Jesus heals someone who does not respond in faith.  This man walks away, returns to his life, goes about his business as if healing were an everyday thing.  Even the Judeans were more concerned with violation of the sabbath than with the miracle that had taken place.  Put down your mat.  Do you want to be made well?

I think I have met this man.  I think I’ve seen him huddled in a dirty tent in a park in Washington, D.C.  I think I’ve seen him sitting on the curb in Easley with a tattered sign and box asking for money.  And if I’m honest, I think I’ve seen him in our sanctuary and meeting halls, and in the mirror of my own bathroom.  Do you want to be made well?

It’s far easier to lie beside the pool and pass time than to take action to be healed.  It’s far easier to complain that no one will help, that everyone else is shoving and pushing and I have no possible way of reaching the waters and winning the cure before someone else slips into that healing balm.  It’s far easier to complain about why things are bad, than to get up, pick up our mats, and walk.

Do you want to be made well?

Maybe.  Maybe.

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