Which brings us to today’s story. Three things strike me in this story. The length of time the man has been waiting at the pool. The clarity of Jesus’s question ‘Do you want to be made well?’ and the mystery of why Jesus chose this person to heal on the Sabbath. Let’s think about them in turn...
Coming each day to the pool and lying on his mat is his normal, his comfort zone; he has known pretty much nothing else. Clearly, he is not getting better and it seems highly unlikely that he expects to. It is, as we all know, the definition of madness to continue doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, yet this is what has been happening for him. His life is effectively stagnant.
I wonder what areas of our lives are stagnant in this way? What things do I or you tend to repeat that are not life giving for us? What things are we really waiting for when we say “as soon as I’ve – whatever it may be, got married, retired, finished this project – then I’ll do the thing I know God is calling me to do? Are we really just not wanting to move out of our warm shower? And if that’s the case, how do we go about a new start?
Jesus asks his question with great clarity, “do you want to be made well” – not to ‘get well’ notice. This question suggests that he is going to intervene. Now let me say that if I had been lying there for thirty-eight years I hope I would have said ‘yes.” Thirty -eight days sick was quite enough for me to decide I want to be well, leave alone thirty-eight years. Yet this man does not say that. Instead he gives reasons why he cannot get well – he has no one to help him and evidently when the water gets stirred up it is like the crush at the Myer sale – everyone surges forwards at once and he has no chance. Now that is fair enough – except that it has been this way for thirty-eight years, so surely, he might have thought about trying something new by now. But maybe not. Maybe for us too there are things we have not gotten around to in thirty-eight days, or thirty-eight weeks or thirty -eight years -sometimes in the church I wonder if it is more like three hundred and eighty years!
Jesus asks this question of us with the same clarity. ‘Do you want to be made well?”. This applies as much in our church life and our political life as it does in our personal life. Most things can change in a generation or two – thirty-eight years or so – but it is always hard for those at the forefront of change. The possibility of healing and transformation is always there. But we need to be ready to leave our ‘warm shower’ zone and try something a bit different.
In the case of the man whom Jesus healed in this story, he was not really very willing, or all that grateful either. He goes off with his mat and later in the story is accused of working on the sabbath. He immediately passes the buck, saying, “the man who made me well, said ‘take up your mat and walk.”, and once he finds out Jesus’s name he goes to the Jews and informs them. This does make me wonder why Jesus picked this person, rather than someone just as sick who might have been a bit happier to be made well and a bit more confidential about the source of their good fortune! What this does show however is healing is not about belief. Christ can act in spite of the obstacles we erect. Jesus does not wait for the conditions to change. He does not wait for the ‘miracle’; for the legendary waters to be stirred up and then lift the man into the pool – no he meets this person exactly where they are with all the reality of thirty-eight years paralysis on a mat and invites them to change; “standup, take your mat and walk.”
It is very easy to waste time in complaint and feeling sorry for ourselves, especially in situations where we feel relatively powerless. This story invites us to look for a different approach. Maybe we cannot achieve what we want for ourselves, the church or the world by the accepted route. Maybe it is all just taking too many years. None of that takes from us our dignity as a human being, or our ability to find other, simpler ways. We may not be the most perfect human beings, obviously worthy of grace. God really does not mind about that. What matters is that we open our ears and our eyes and when God tells us to stand up , we stand up. In the name of Christ. Amen.
by Penny Jones, Sunday before Ascension Day/Sorry Day, 26 May 2019