I think I do want to get well… though there are way too many mitigating circumstances. My body is aging (I'm past half-way of the average male lifespan in N.America), my life is busy (Wii Lego Star Wars can't just lie there unattended!), I really like pop (drinks- not music), I need to eat (and McDonald's is on the way home), and there is no one to help me (magically speaking).
There was a man who sat by a pool for thirty-eight years. Whether it was once a week or every day for thirty-eight years, I'm not sure. But I am fairly confident that he must have rubbed the impression of his buttocks into the paving stones after all that time. He had his place by the pool and it was his. For thirty-eight years.
The man was sick. For thirty-eight years he had been sick. I don't know what his condition was… whether he was paralyzed or lame or weak or what. But the fact is that in thirty-eight years of sitting by the pool, I'm sure his health didn't improve by the power of positive thinking. I'm no doctor (actually I almost am!… but not medically) but I'm pretty sure that one doesn't get better by sitting and waiting for a magic cure for thirty-eight years.
For thirty-eight years he relied on this pool to make him well. There was a legend floating about that the rippling waters of this pool brought healing. But the man, being stuck on his mat, was never quick enough into the pool when the wind, or a bug, or a human, or an imagination, stirred the surface of the water. And so, thought the man at least, he would never have a chance to get well.
One day, Jesus stopped by the pool. There were crowds of sick people with blindness or diseases or crippling conditions gathered around the water. Out of everyone there, we know that Jesus approached this man who had been stuck for thirty-eight years. Why this man? There must have been others who earnestly desired healing from God; who passionately prayed and cried out and who had family and friends that cried out on their behalf. And yet, out of everyone, Jesus walked up to this man and asked, "Do you want to get well?" And the man said…
He told Jesus, "I can't get into the pool quick enough. Another person always gets in before me and steals the magic. There is no hope for a man such as me."
Well, the man had no faith, right. So there is no way he could be healed, right. He wouldn't help himself, or couldn't, for thirty-eight years, so God would never help him, right. After all, as one grumpy church member once told me, "The Bible says God only helps those who help themselves" ("Where does it say that?" I asked him, by the way.) So the invalid man really didn't have a chance, right.
Jesus told the man who had been stuck for thirty-eight years, "Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk." Okay… and instantly the man was healed.
I think Jesus was giving the man an opportunity to get rid of the excuses in his life and to trust God. Later on, Jesus confronted the man with a challenge to stop sinning. I think Jesus was advising him, "Okay, now you are well, no more excuses, change your life by following me." In essence, Jesus told the man, "Get up and get away from this pool. A healthy life is not found here. You have to follow me."
Now before you get all upset that I would be promoting some form of "health and wealth" gospel, I want to point out a couple things: 1) The man had little to no faith and yet Jesus healed him. Certainly this does not promote the concept that "if you just have enough faith then you will be healed." Well, what about all the others at the pool that day? That idea is silly. Jesus heals when and whom he wants. 2) The man's life did not get more comfortable because he was healed. In fact, immediately after he was healed he was nearly arrested and sent to Gehenna (so to speak) for breaking the law. It was illegal to carry your sleeping mat on the Sabbath in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. But Jesus healed the guy and told him to "pick up" his mat and "walk." So in obeying Jesus' simple command, the guy's life was immediately put to test. Health and Wealth gospel doesn't fit here… nor does it fit in Acts 7 or Hebrews 11 for that matter. A lack of faith does not equal zero grace from God… and a deep exercise of faith does not equal comfort.
In the end of it all, the kind of life we are to be living is not a stirring for the waters but an immersed pursuit of Jesus. The kind of "well" that Jesus has nothing to do with impossibilities, but with the possibilities inherent in Jesus commands. When offered to us, however, we must be willing to follow and obey in the little things, despite the lifestyle change the pursuit of Jesus may bring. After all, the "well" is about an abundant stream of living water… not a rippling magic cure.
[Side note: the man was not allowed in the Temple, where
the 'truly faithful' who were 'not afflicted' were allowed. This was
as close to a religious experience in community that he was permitted
to have… And eventually, after he was healed and allowed by the authorities to make his way to the Temple, he
was immediately confronted by Jesus with a choice on how he should
actually be living his life. Religiously or in life-gratitude
perhaps? Is there a lesson here for the churchians?]