“Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people – blind, crippled, paralyzed – were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’” – John 5:1-6, The Message
The scriptures are full of haymaker questions. The first question in the Bible is from the mouth of the Lounge Lizard, a strange creation of God who asks the comely and buck-naked Eve: “Hey beautiful, can I buy you a drink? And, by the way, did God actually say that you must not eat from ANY tree of the Garden?” Eve took the drink and the bait and here we all are, writhing in the quicksand of our knowledge of good and evil. Thanks, Eve, for my esophageal and IBS issues. Atta girl.
The questions keep coming like rockets, sporadic and devastating. The next one comes from God himself, also from the hallowed circus that was the Garden. A question of location comes forth: “Where are you?” No, it has nothing to do with location; it has to do with their existential compass. WHERE ARE YOU?
The explosions go on: I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, don’t you get it? What is your name? Who do you say that I am? Why are you crying? Do you love me more than these? Each question a crater upon the human landscape. It is possible to know the arc of the Scriptures simply through the questions. If only we were given a siren when one was about to crash into our hearts.
The man has been ill for 38 years; a healing would be a shock to his system.
And now today we have another. Do you want to be well? It is a rhetorical question where the answer is certain: No. For heaven’s sake, the man has been ill for 38 years, a healing would be a shock to his system. If he were to be healed, he would face a terrible new day. His relationships would be traumatized. His self-image would go through the ringer as he would have been blamed somehow for his malady, but now what? His livelihood would be destroyed. Did God punish the wrong person? His would be at the epicenter of scandal, he would become an icon of God – the God who makes terrible mistakes. Then there are the many new patterns and responsibilities he must enter and master and the terrible burden of gratitude, to say nothing of survivor’s guilt crouching there in the tall grass.
Of course he does not want to be well. Jesus should know that all systems seek equilibrium, even when the system is founded on death. We see it in our friends, our family members, our places of work. We see it in political parties. We see it in ourselves, as we are plagued by maladies we have no intention with which to come to terms. We’ll throw a fig leaf on it if we have time. We’ll harp on something else to keep the attention off of it. We’ll find a scapegoat; there’s one born every minute.
But become well? Not a chance.
Being well takes tremendous courage. It takes vision, determination, a white-hot hope. It takes saying no to that which has kept us in bondage and yes to what is so often unknown. And typically there is a lot of explaining to do.
Jesus will heal this man. I wonder if he lumbered off regretting it for the rest of his life. He might have; for just as he is walking away, carrying his posturepedic mat, the religious leaders slither toward him and say, “Hey, buddy, can we buy you a drink?”
Thom Fiet is pastor of Lyall Memorial Federated Church, Millbrook, New York.
Image: Pieter van Lint (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.