“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:1-6 KJV, italics mine).
I came across this story from John recently, and again (as I usually am) was a little confused by Jesus’ question to this sick man. What does he mean, will you be made well? If you heal him, Jesus, then yes he will be! Duh…
But I came to really understand it when I read again through the filter of my own ongoing health struggles. Jesus is asking him, “Do you WANT to be well?” (After Googling the verse, I realize other versions are translated as such…)
And it hit me what Jesus is really asking here. Do you want to be well? Do you want to give up your identity around being sick? Do you want to give up your excuses? The man at the pool gave Jesus all kinds of reasons why he was still sick: no one was there to lift him into the water, someone always shoved ahead of him, etc. (Or maybe yours looks more like, I can’t afford that treatment; I don’t want to give up those foods; What if I get well enough to try something new and I fail?…)
When we aren’t truly ready to give up our illness (let’s face it — even sickness can feel familiarly soothing in its own way), we will come up with an array of excuses/reasons why we can’t get better.
So, what Jesus is asking him is, are you really ready to give up your excuses and your identity of 38 years (that number is not lost on me, at age 38 in the midst of my own long-term illness!)?
Giving up the things (and people and beliefs) that make and keep us sick is not easy by any means. It comes with its own kinds of grief and pain. But, the payoff is wellness. It is being able to pick up your mat, get up, and carry about your business and tell people about your recovery.
Coincidentally (divinely placed), I read a similar quote attributed to Hippocrates a few weeks ago that really started me on this whole line of thinking before I even came across the passage from John. It read, “Before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to give up the things that made him sick.”
And now that I read the story of the man by the pool, I see how important it was that Jesus asked him what he did. He could’ve sen the man in his illness and simply healed him, as Jesus does. Poof. Up he could go, with his mat under his arm, and…then I wonder, would the wellness have lasted? Would the man have healed INSIDE himself if Jesus had not asked him. Granted, we don’t read a response from him before Jesus acted. But I have to imagine, Jesus’ words echoed in his mind the way that Hippocrates quote has been in mine for the past couple of months. It is in that question that I have been honestly asking myself questions about what I am willing to give up in exchange for what I want to gain. Am I willing to give up pizza and ice cream indefinitely for a relief from this gut havoc? (Am I willing to let go of the decades-long engrained emotional connection that pizza and ice cream equaled Friday night meals with my family, and the pretense of happiness and togetherness?) Am I willing to have uncomfortable conversations to mend relationships? Am I willing to do the things I don’t want to do?
Am I willing to look at the excuses I’ve made for staying stuck and sick, and calling them what they are (fear – of unknown, of failure, of disappointment)?
What I’m learning through all this is that no one can get well by doing the things that made them sick. Old habits, old excuses, old ways of being, old beliefs — they all keep you where you are. You can’t have anything new until you give up the old. So, take up your mat, and walk toward the new.