Easter 6 2016
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
April 30, 2016
“Do you want to be healed?”
There are times when being in a specific place allows us an opportunity to see with new eyes.
As I peered into the ruins of the site, a hollowed space by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, I could imagine the scene in today’s gospel unfolding.
There were the stairs that led down to the various porticoes…now piles of fallen stones and the occasional tuft of stubborn growing grass…porticoes where the sick and the dying had once lain, praying for relief from their suffering and agony.
I gazed along the length of the empty pool, water filling my imagination…waters that were once separated at the dawn of creation…waters that flowed from the throne of the Lamb in the center of the celestial Jerusalem…waters that healed Naaman the Syrian, and burst from the rock in the wilderness…the waters that continually circle and cycle throughout our lives, bringing life and returning once again to water another’s.
As humans, our whole lives are made of water, including our very bodies, so it is not surprising that those who came to this specific pool came looking for water.
The pool of Beth-zatha, which was not far from the place where sheep, destined for sacrifice in the temple, were sold, was purported to have healing powers due to the waters it contained.
Fed from a natural underground spring, the pool’s healing powers were said to be activated by an angel that would come and “stir up” the waters.
Rumor had it that the first person into the pool after the waters were stirred would be healed of their infirmity.
For the man in our Gospel today, who had been ill for 38 years, I wonder how many people he had seen rush into those swirling waters before him, emerging cured of their maladies…leaping and hopping off to a new life of freedom and joy.
While he sat in his portico, unable to move swiftly enough to be the first into the waters, I wonder if he started to become jaded and callous.
At the very least, I bet he had long given up on being cured…resigned to the fact that he would never reach the waters before his more able-bodied and eager neighbors.
I could almost see him there in that far portico…glowering at the far end of the pool, and turning his head to fix his judgmental gaze upon me…a 38 year old of sound mind and body who could come and go as I pleased.
His sneer pierced my heart, because rather than seeing the separation between us, I saw the staggering and condemning continuity.
Perhaps I was no physical invalid, but how could I not resonate with the hardness of heart that develops after that which one most hopes for seems always just out of reach?
And like him, had I been so long hoping for something beyond that I had forgotten why I wanted it in the first place?
When Jesus comes to this man, he has one simple question for him.
Jesus’ ability to read people and strike at their core seems unparalleled.
The gospel says Jesus knew he had been there a long time, and I’m guessing if Jesus stood where I was standing in that moment, he might have seen those hardened eyes staring back at him.
Jesus’ question to the man is direct…so direct that the man can’t even hear it for what it is.
“Do you want to be made well?”
After 38 years, after watching person after person enter the healing waters while he sat on the sidelines, the man doesn’t hear the heart of the question.
Instead of a straightforward answer, the man gives an excuse.
No one will put me into the pool…others go in first…I can’t be healed because of this or that or whatever.
38 years of jaded vision, lost hope, and sadness have rendered the man incapable of seeing how the healing he seeks may not be tied to the pool at all.
“Do you want to be made well?”
Not how do you want to be made well…not do you want me to put you into the pool before others…but do you want to be made well?
That is the question that cuts to the core of all of us who come to this place seeking the healing that only God can provide.
Do we want to be made well?
In my own life, I know all too well how I have been content to prescribe the circumstances for God’s healing to come into my life…to all too readily expect God’s healing to come to me through an elaborate set of rituals, or filtering through my own conception of worthiness, or because I have done or not done something.
These are all surface concerns, and like waves and ripples on the top layer of deep waters, they can distract us from the depths and the treasure of truth that resides there.
Do I want to be made well?
I ask myself what is keeping me from saying yes to that question.
Of course I can say a simple and nonchalant, “Yes” to it, but if I am honest, my yes often comes with a caveat attached.
Yes I do, IF being made well comes with no strings attached.
Yes I do want to be made well, if I can remain the way I am afterward.
Yes I do, IF…and you can fill in the blank.
In this spiritual search called life…a search which may take 38 years, or which could come to an end much earlier than that, our whole struggle comes down to our answer to this question.
Do you want to be made well?
Saying yes whole-heartedly, without caveat and without letting surface tensions overwhelm us, is what it means to follow Jesus and be made well.
If we look at the story before us, Jesus heals the man of his physical infirmity, telling him to “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
And he does, never needing to wait for stirred up waters again.
But there is a wellness that runs deeper than the physical, and it is a wellness that the man sick for 38 years doesn’t grasp.
He is free from physical infirmity, but he misses that his total wellness comes from the one who asked him the question.
He does nothing to deserve physical healing…he doesn’t even respond to Jesus’ question…but Jesus heals him anyway. In fact, later he ends up turning Jesus into the authorities who want to punish him for healing on the Sabbath.
Just in case we think physical healing is about saying the right things, or believing the right things, Jesus shows us that physical healing does not depend on these surface matters.
But wellness…that is a different matter.
One can be dying of cancer and yet be well.
One can be assaulted by all manner of physical suffering and yet know that one’s redeemer lives.
One can be crucified on a cross and yet be whole and well.
Wellness is about knowing the truth of the depths and saying yes to it…even if the surface is troubled and choppy.
Wellness is a decision.
A decision to receive God’s grace…trust in it…and to plumb the depths for the core of what it means to be human and to be in relationship with both God and our neighbors.
Those are deep waters, and it is our answer to the question…not an angel…that activates them.
Do you want to be made well?
Find a way to say yes, without caveat, and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide you along the way that leads to life.
The wellness we truly seek depends upon it.