I suspect the invalid at the pool believed in miracles simply because he was there. While that might be true, Elizabeth Johnson described this man as “perhaps the least willing and the least grateful of all the people healed in the Bible.” Jesus asked him if he wanted to be made well. You think he would say yes. But instead of answering the question, the man grumbles and complains. As my friend Roxy reminded me, “Chronic illness wears on you.”
Now there was a belief that this pool of water had healing properties and that it could change one’s life. It was said that every now and then an angel would stir the water, the water would begin to bubble, and the first one into the pool would be healed. For 38 years this man sat there. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Every day is the same. Not much changes. His life, in contrast to the pool, was stagnant.
How many of us sit on our mats and hope for something better to happen in our life? Have we become blind and crippled, unable to see that the deep well of life is not out there in that magic pool of water, but it’s here…inside us? Episcopal priest Fr. Michael Marsh argues, “The pool of Bethesda is an illusion. It deceives us into believing that life is to be found outside ourselves.” He says, “It tricks us into living an ‘as soon as’ kind of life – as soon as I get to the water… my life will be better, my problems will be fixed.
Perhaps there’s a voice inside you saying, “As soon as I graduate I can get out of this place.” Or “As soon as I find someone to love I’ll be happy.” Or “As soon as I get ahead in my career or make more money I’ll be satisfied and then all will be well.”
“The problem with this kind of thinking,” writes Marsh, “is it puts our life on hold as we sit on our mats, imprisoned by the circumstances of our life.” The imprisonment is so great, and so crippling, that when Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” the guy only has excuses why he isn’t. He is so focused on why he can’t get into the pool that he has forgotten what God is capable of doing inside of him.
Johns story reminds us that our wellness isn’t found outside our various circumstances, but within them. In the midst of our living, whether it’s our best or broken self, Jesus comes to meet us…speaking words of life and resurrection, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Jesus doesn’t help the man into the water, nor does he wait for the man to confess his sins or profess his faith. Jesus simply tells him what to do, and the man does it. He gets up and goes, taking his mat with him – the very mat he desperately wanted to escape.
My takeaway is this: Jesus meets us, and heals us…but our mats, our scars and stories, we still have to carry…they are a living testimony to God healing the world from within itself.
Healing isn’t based on us having ‘enough’ faith, but on the faithfulness of God. There is nothing this man did to earn Jesus’ approval or attention. It was done purely out of God’s love for him. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t heal so he can be praised or worshiped. He heals because that is what God’s love does. It redeems us and transforms us and makes us whole and well.
We too can learn to do all kinds of miracles simply by watching and doing what Jesus does. By the way we love one another, we are able to heal the brokenness in us and in the world. This doesn’t happen with war, or greed, or economic sanctions. God’s love is the balm that heals the world.
“Jesus doesn’t change our outer circumstances. He changes us” from within so that we can go out and be change makers. “He calls us into a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking, thinking…so the world can get a taste of God’s healing love and be made well.” Jesus is offering you a type of healing that transforms the human condition – that takes your brokenness and makes you whole. He’s asking you, “Do you want to be made well?” How will you answer?
In his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway writes, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Jesus comes to us in our brokenness and open our eyes so we might see our cracks for what they really are – the true beauty of God at work in us.
You may have heard me talk about this before, but in the fifteenth century the Japanese created an art form called “Kintsugi.” It’s where an artist takes and repairs broken pottery with a special lacquer that had been mixed with gold. The final result is a new object that is more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken and repaired.
This illustration reminds me that we are cracked and broken people. Some more than others. But that’s not how God sees us. God is the artist. And Jesus is the gold that God uses to bind us back together, to make us beautiful and new. Because of Jesus, we are worth more simply because of our golden cracks. Like Hemingway reminded us, being broken is an unavoidable part of life. But through Christ Jesus, who gave his life for us, all of life is made well again. And when people see our golden scars they see God's divine grace and love in all its glory.
In Questioning Jesus, we are all given a choice: “Do you want to be made well from the things in life that are crippling you?”
Jesus is inviting you into a greater life, with more substance and wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Your restored life doesn’t happen “as soon as this or that happens…” but the second you answer Jesus’ question. “Do you want to be made well?” If so, then pick up your mat and go be who God made you to be, a perfect work of art – the divine image of the One who created you a beloved child, cracks and all.
Johnson, Elizabeth. Commentary on John 5:1-9. From workingpreacher.org, originally published on May 1, 2016.
Marsh, Michael. “Get up off your mat.” From interruptingthesilence.com, originally published on May 6, 2013.
Macdonald, Ian. From the sermon “Healing and Renewal” originally published on February 22, 2015.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”