Summary: Jesus still speaks and when we obey the power fills us, life changes and it is good.
Would you like to get well?
Oct 16, 2011 Jn 5:1-15
38 years is a long time, don’t you think? About half a lifetime. 38 years ago, 1973, Nixon was in the middle of the Watergate scandal, Montreal won the Stanley Cup and there was barely a hint of an Edmonton Oilers, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Godfather, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) technology was developed (this is the technology behind the MRI scan). There were no Personal Computers.
38 years is a long time. Can you imagine being sick for that long? That would certainly be described as a chronic condition. Some of you know what it means to be sick or in pain for a prolonged period of time, and you can understand better than I can. 38 years; you would have to learn how to cope. How to manage. How to just get by. I expect the struggle would wear you down.
This morning we return to the Gospel of John, after a few weeks of focusing in other areas, and we pick up in John 5.
1 Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. 2 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. 3 Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. 5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, Would you like to get well?
7 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.
8 Jesus told him, Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!
9 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, 10 so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!
11 But he replied, The man who healed me told me, Pick up your mat and walk.
12 Who said such a thing as that? they demanded.
13 The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. 14 But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you. 15 Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him.
A Simple Story:
The story itself is fairly simple – a man, who had been sick for 38 years, lying at a pool reputed to have miraculous healing powers; Jesus, in town for a festival; a question and response; a healing; and a command that breaks the Sabbath and overshadows the miracle. That’s the bare bones; that’s how the Bible tells it.
The story doesn’t tell us how Jesus knew he’d been sick for 38 years – maybe Jesus was just walking around and talking to people and this guy told him – but the story does tell us that Jesus asks him a question: Would you like to get well?
It might seem like a dumb question. On the one hand, it seems obvious – of course he wants to get well! – he’s been sick for 38 years and you ask if he wants to get well? But in fact, it is not a dumb question at all.
See, we all get stuck. We get into places where we cope with our ailments – be they physical or emotional or relational. We get used to them. They become familiar, and we learn how to manage life with those impairments. We learn to hold documents further away to read them, instead of admitting we need to go to the eye doctor and get glasses. We only talk about surface stuff like the weather and the sports teams because we remember trying once or twice to share deeper and more personal things and felt rejected, so we go inside our homes and close the curtains and feel lonely, but the loneliness is familiar and somehow we continue to choose that familiar pain over risking and sharing in a new relationship. We turn to alcohol as an escape from very real, very challenging problems, but then discover when we sober up that the problems are right there waiting for us, any maybe even a little worse now.
So, Jesus’ question is not a dumb one at all. Would you like to get well? It means you’ll have to change some things. This guy in the story wouldn’t be able to lay on his mat at the pool anymore – he was going to have to pick up his mat and walk. Probably find a job instead of begging. Probably have to make his own food now instead of relying on others. Whatever the specifics, the bottom line is that this guy is going to have to make some changes.