Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool with five covered colonnades, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda. On these walkways lay a great number of the sick, the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.
One man there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and realized that he had spent a long time in this condition, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am on my way, someone else goes in before me.”
Here’s a man who’s the definition of stuck. He has some type of disability, and evidently can’t walk. All he can do is sit among the throng of the flawed and unwanted, next to a pool that occasionally heals, and hope that some day it will be his turn. He waits, day after day, year after year, for 38 years, but nothing changes.
Can we relate to this man? Sometimes, the “healing” we want can also seem tantalizingly close, but unattainable. We see others who are growing, and thriving, and moving forward. Yet we’re tangled in our struggles. We feel like we’re doing our best, but still remain in the same situation.
And Jesus asks a question, which is today’s red letter verse, that speaks to us as well, “Do you want to get well?”
It’s an uncomfortable question. Because we want to answer, “Of course I want to get well. I’m totally miserable.” And then we want to add, like the invalid, “But there’s no one to help me with my challenges. I feel so alone. If only someone would come and show they care, I could do better.”
Yesterday, my sister in law sent me a link to a song called, “Mercy Now” by Mary Gauthier. The gist of it is summed up in these words from the last verse, “Yea, we all could use a little mercy now. I know we don’t deserve it. But we need it anyhow.” This song very much moved my sister in law, because it spoke about the deep yearning in all of us to be heard. To be seen. To matter.
The invalid needed some mercy. He needed to be seen among the crowd of the disabled. He needed to feel like he mattered to others, and to God. So many others were healed when the water was stirred. He tried to get there, but it was always too late. If God helped them, but not him, he might have decided that God didn’t care.
And we’ve felt that way at times too. So when Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” it can open up a world of hurt. We want to lash out with, “I feel like no one understands. No one’s on my side. I’m really trying, but it seems useless and overwhelming.”
Yet Jesus does ask that question. How could he be so callous? The thing is, there’s an elephant in the room. There’s a pool that’s only a few feet away. For the man it was water called Bethesda. For us, it’s Jesus, the living water. It’s our ability to enter the holiest of holies and be in God’s presence. It’s the indwelling of the Spirit. All of these things are right at hand.
And Jesus asks, “Why don’t you fight to get to this water?” And for us, that translates, “Why don’t you fight to drink more deeply of the healing water I have for you?”
Ah. We cringe. Our hearts are exposed. Why don’t we fast? Why don’t we spend hours in prayer, as Jesus did? Why don’t we study the Bible more? Why don’t we plan a retreat to just spend time with him? Why don’t we put our face on the ground, and completely surrender? Why don’t we make it a priority to have a breakthrough so we can know God better?
Why don’t we? Because we just want to pray, and that will make things better. We don’t want to get out of our comfort zone. We don’t want to change. It seems too difficult. We’re too busy and preoccupied with our own troubles and life.
Isn’t it ironic that we’re so overwhelmed in our little world of struggles, that we can’t find the energy to go for the cure?
The more I reflect on this, the more I see it is true for me. There are ways I want to “get well.” I want to reach more people with the gospel, for our church to grow. I want my business to do well. But the work I’m putting in to achieve my desires doesn’t reflect that I really want them. I share my faith, but I don’t often do something like door knocking. I work on my coaching Facebook page, but I don’t spend hours per week building the business.
I think my mentality about this is similar to my mentality about my physical ailments. I’m having some discomfort with a tooth, but I don’t go to the endodontist. And I probably won’t go until it’s absolutely necessary. I have a breast lump that’s benign. One surgeon says it should come out, and another says it’s fine. I could have the surgery just to be sure, but instead, I’ll wait to see if something happens, and then I’ll act.
I really don’t want to disrupt my comfortable lifestyle. I can live with the way things are. And that’s probably the way the invalid man felt. He wanted to get well. And did try to do his part. But the solution that was really needed would take a lot of energy and effort that would disrupt the pattern of life he was used to. So he could live with the way things were and keep making lackluster attempts.
There’s just something about human nature that holds onto the status quo.
So Jesus asks the hard questions to shake things up. In life coaching, I do the same. I was speaking with a client last night who is very stuck in some ways. The only way she will get unstuck is if I ask questions that challenge her mindset. She has to learn to think differently in order to change and move forward.
And one of the main ways I challenge her to think differently is to ask her what she really wants. She believes she wants one thing, and that drives her. As we talk, she begins to see that she has far greater desires that will motivate her in a better way to a better life.
Jesus wants to do the same. He wants us to get unstuck, and go after our best life.
So how do we get unstuck? We ask ourselves the question Jesus asked, “What do I really want? What’s most important to me?”
And then we stay focused on that, and let our energies reflect its importance.