A Funny, or not-so-funny Question
I have heard that there are two kinds of day-dreams that people often have called hero day-dreams. One is the conquering hero: we picture ourselves making thefinal, tie-breaking, winning goal as the buzzer ends the play-offs. We win the contest, we are acknowledged as the best at our craft – all cheer the conquering hero.
Or, we could be the suffering hero. In this day-dream, we stoically endure great pain and suffering, undeserved, unjust, unfair, and horrible. People see our just cause and the extent of our fortitude, endurance, and nobility, and consider us heroic victims.
38 Years the victim
I think we have a suffering hero before us in this story. There he sits beside the waters of healing for thirty-eight years to no effect; he remains ill after all this time.
Thirty-eight years is a long time. It’s a very long time. In the ancient world, lots of children died at birth, and lots of mothers died in childbirth, but if you made it to age 30, you had a decent chance of living into your late 60’s. If you were 30, you may possibly expect to live another 38 years, barring accidents, famine or war.
The biblical 38 years
In fact, 38 is an important biblical number. Everybody remembers that when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, they went to Mount Sinai (= Horeb), then wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the promised land, right? Why?
The story (in Deut. 1&2) goes like this. God tells Moses at Mt. Sinai: “you have been here at this mountain long enough. Go to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am giving you the land; go take possession of it.” So they marched all the way to Kadesh-barnea, right up to the edge of the promised land.
Spies, reports, giants
Now, a promise from God is a good thing, but it’s always well to do your due diligence, so at Kadesh-barnea they thought it best to send spies into the land to check it out first. They did; they brought back a report. “It’s a good land, yes, great produce, yes, quite healthy. Healthy giants too; a really nice place.”
“What? Giants? Bad idea,” everyone decides. Right there, on the edge of the land God had promised them, the edge of the solution to their homelessness, they had a massive, communal failure of faith. In spite of all the evidence they had of God’s faithfulness: their escape from slavery, the Red Sea crossing, the pillar of fire by day and the cloud by night – in spite of all of that, Moses says, “your hearts melted with fear and you said ‘It is because God hates us that he brought us here to destroy us.’”
So, God said “Fine. Stay here in the wilderness if you like it so much. You can call it home until every last one of that disbelieving, faithless generation is buried out there in the sand.” It took 38 years (Deut. 2:14).
What do you want?
So, back to our story in John, Jesus finds a man sitting on the edge of a solution to his problem for 38 years. And he asks him the funniest, oddest question:
6″Do you want to be made well?”
This is either one of the dumbest questions every asked, or perhaps one of the most profound.
This man wants to look as though he wants to be made well – he is there, after all, beside the pool. If he has mobility issues, perhaps someone helps him get to the pool every day – for 38 years. Certainly somebody is taking care of this man, feeding him, providing him with a place to stay all these years.
He claims that his problem is that he has no one with his interests at heart:
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
But what’s up with that? If a person was willing to go to all that trouble for all those years to take care of him, don’t you think he/she would be willing to help him get into the water too? Unless he always says, “No thank; you have work to do; I’ll be OK; just go; I’ll manage.” The suffering hero, the victim; the role he identifies with.
Wellness and change
Wellness means having to look after yourself. Wellness means no one else to blame for our troubles. Wellness means no more playing the role of “suffering hero” who wants people to pity us and feel sorry for us. Wellness means, taking responsibility. Wellness may mean that we will have to take care of other people who are sick. Perhaps it is easier to stay sick and blame it on someone else.
“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asked him? Maybe he asked him because he knew that this was the root of his trouble.
The question to us
I believe Jesus asks us the same question. “Do we want to be made well?”
There is no such thing as a perfectly healthy person. All of us here to day have our unhealthy areas; the more in touch with ourselves, the more honest we are, the more we are aware of just how unhealthy we are.
Do we want Jesus to change us? What if it is difficult? What if it hurts?
It’s easy for us to ask God to change other people; to change our external situation; our financial condition; our health; problems outside of us. It is much harder to say “yes” when he asks to heal our pride, our bitterness, our hyper-sensitivity, our lust, or our anger, stinginess, our hoarding instinct, our xenophobia, our intolerance, our willingness to accept our condition of unhealthiness instead of taking on the task of discipleship. It’s easy for us to say “Lord, change them” and hard for us to really say, “Lord, change me.”
But that is what wants to do with all of us. He is not content to leave us as we are. He wants to transform us into the image of Christ Jesus himself. He wants to heal us on the inside.
6″Do you want to be made well?”
Our Mission: active verbs
We have a mission. We have discerned that God wants us to be a healthy congregation. He wants us to be people who are committed to:
“Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love” (our mission statement)
All three verbs are active. We are not here to sit by the side of the pool waiting for somebody else.
Did you notice how Jesus responded to that man? He completely ignored his pathetic excuses and called him to action:
8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
“Get up, take responsibility for yourself, and get moving” he is telling us.
Loving God is active: it means worship, it means prayer. Loving God means living a life of thankfulness, nurturing our awareness of God’s presence, not only when we are gathered, like here and now, but everywhere and always.
Growing in Faith is active: it means expanding our comfort zones, being more willing to risk ourselves on behalf of Christ and his kingdom; on behalf of others who need us. Growing in faith means learning, which means study, which means widening the borders of our mental maps of the world to account for more and more newly discovered regions of truth. Growing means changing.
Sharing Christ’s Love is active: it means asking the questions: what does this church need from me? What does my family need from me? What does mycommunity need from me? What does my country need from me? What does the world need from me?
I have Christ’s love: how can I most effectively share it? Where is the need the greatest? What are other people unwilling to do that I could do? Who is being overlooked? How has God blessed me? What do I have to give?
“Stand up, take your mat and walk” Jesus is telling us.
The final (missing) objection
I love the way this part of the story ends.
9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
There was one more objection he could have made: “Wait Jesus; don’t ask me to take my mat and walk: it’s the Sabbath! It’s not our tradition to do it that way. Someone might get mad.”
If he had, I think Jesus would have said, “Yea, after 38 years you’ve sat there for nearly 2,000 Sabbaths. Time to make a change, disrupt the status quo.”
Our disruptive God
At the very central core of our Christian story is the notion of the disruptive, creative, activity of God. The same God who disrupted the silent darkness at the dawn of time and made a noisy, bright world is the same God who disrupted Pharaoh’s slave-system and set his people free. This is the God that disrupted this man’s contented 38 year-illness, bringing life and energy to his legs, and the same God who disrupted his thousand year old Sabbath tradition and told him to get up and get moving, mat-carrying included.
Do we want to be made well? Yes we do. We want God to disrupt our old habits, our former unhealthy lifestyles, our sick ways of being passive, and get up, embrace change, and live into our vision of discipleship: Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love!