Current remains of the Pool of Bethesda
Let’s start here, John 5:1-9:
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
(Please in your own time read all the way through verse 17…even though the religious leaders being poo-faces who can’t accept Jesus healing on the Sabbath…is for another blog post). 🙂
There is so much textual goodness around this passage that I could just sink into with the excitement of a canine with a taste for teriyaki beef, but I won’t right now. Here’s where I want to focus– on the moment when Jesus seems to be asking this man a rather obvious, if not rude, question. Jesus has grown up around this man, would have walked past this pool and seen this man lounging for tens of years, and been absolutely aware of his persisting condition. Why in the WORLD is he asking if the man wants to be healed?
Let’s talk about what we know for sure.
- Jesus is not reckless with His words.
- Jesus never uses His words to injure or hurt someone.
- Jesus uses His words to reveal something about the heart of the person He is interacting with.
With those things in mind, I started thinking, maybe the question Jesus is asking here isn’t as simple as, “Would you like your body to function fully again?” Maybe He’s asking a spiritual question. A harder one.
Skip to Mark 2 with me for a second.
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12 ESV)
Oh, scribey scribes. They get all up in arms about Jesus because they quickly realize that when Jesus says to this man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (before he says “Rise up!”), Jesus is claiming authority that only God claims. So they rebuke him, mumbling to themselves, Hey, buddy, CALM IT DOWN, ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT.
As my professor Dr. Peterson would say, “Well, guys, that’s kind of the point.”
Jesus shows that he has the authority of God, because, well…He is God. Not only does he say things can happen, but he MAKES them happen. Jesus declares, “This man’s spiritual state is the harder thing to fix than his physical state. Only God can cure his soul. And right here, in front of you, I did it to show you…the harder thing has been done. I can do the harder thing that no one else can do.”
So let’s travel back to the pool of Bethesda In John 5 and our man being asked by Jesus if he wants to be well. Keep in mind that this man has had his identity for decades based on the fact that he has been “an invalid for 38 years.” You’ve got a lot wrapped up in that identity by that time. He claims he hasn’t been able to get to the healing waters in time to be cured, but Jesus doesn’t ask him about the specific story. Interestingly, this is what the man offers up to Jesus, his tale of woe, instead of directly answering the question Jesus asks.
Sometimes the questions Jesus directly asks me I try to fishtail around. They are kind of uncomfortable. They might seem obvious to everyone else… (Who doesn’t want to get better?) but I hear Jesus saying, softly, but persistently, “Do you want to change? Do you really want this healing and what comes with it?”
I have been confronted with thinking about this passage in this particular way lately when it comes to my own types of weakness and infirmities of my own heart. I’m not talking about legs or arms that don’t work, and I don’t want anyone to read this thinking I’m making a statement about actual physical disabilities, because I’m not even touching on that. I’m talking about my heart. This crazy heart, while having been saved by the grace of Jesus and being changed every day, still holds on to idols, rebelling against God. Lately I feel like my sins have been popping up in my heart like whack-a-moles, and Jesus offers them to my mind and heart as truths about me that He knows more about than I do, but He is definitely posing a question. He is so tender when he asks, but He does ask, and I believe He wants a response to the question He’s asking.
Do you want to be healed?
Everything in my heart screams, “OF COURSE I DO!” Then, gently, He starts to reveal to me what that’s going to look like, and I tremble. Why? Because it’s the death of “my preciouses,” my idols that I have clung to for comfort and life when all they bring is sorrow and death. When Jesus asks me if I want to get well, I hear Him saying, “There is a cost to this. It will be uncomfortable and it’s not going to let you hold onto your selfishness. If you identify with me, I want you to know what is ahead. Suffering, hardship, struggle. But also grace upon grace, and glory, and resurrection. Do you trust me?”
Healing is not a smooth road. It’s uncomfortable. It’s death before rebirth.
I share with you this beautiful passage by C.S. Lewis from The Great Divorce, about the “red lizard of lust”. Please read it in its entirety below. Think of what your lizard would be, and God’s invitation to take it from you.
“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”
‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit-an angel, as I now understood.
“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.
“Don’t you want him killed?”
“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”
“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”
“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”
“There is no time. May I kill it?”
“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”
“May I kill it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”
“The gradual process is of no use at all.”
“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”
“There is no other day. All days are present now.”
“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”
“It is not so.”
“Why, you’re hurting me now.”
“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”
“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”
“This moment contains all moments.”
“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”
“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”……. “Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.
“I know it will kill me.”
“It won’t. But supposing it did?”
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”
“Then I may?”
“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
I mean, goodness. That’s you and that’s me, as hard as that is to read. That’s us.
Jesus longs to take from us our self-obsession, our fears and anxieties, and He says, “I don’t need you to tell me why you’re not better yet. I’ve known you for years, since the beginning of everything. I know all your intricacies. I’m asking you the harder question so that you will allow me to do the harder thing.”
Do you want to be healed?
It’s going to be major surgery. Saying yes to being healed means we have to throw our idols at the feet of Jesus and give him permission to strangle them in front of our eyes. We have to stop pretending we are just “playing house” with our idols and fall down on our faces and ask for the mercy of the Lord, because we’ve let them rule us. We thought they were just lizards on our shoulder but they’ve become dark, leeching, life-draining masters. The sickness of our hearts is that we love our idols more than God. If we REALLY want to be healed, Jesus insists on draining them of their power right before our very eyes. There is no other option if you want to live a life that is truly free. And in the Christian life you don’t get any anesthesia for the removal of sin- there isn’t an epidural available when the worst of what it means to give up your idols hits. Here is what we do have, and it’s exactly what we need to get better, knowing we can’t do any of it alone. We aren’t strong enough. That one thing is God’s grace. That grace, His love, is an all-consuming fire, and it’s jealous. Being healed, “getting better” FOR REAL, means letting Him consume the things that hold us captive,
As my current training in Revelation Wellness keeps reminding me, we don’t just want to feel better, we want to get better. If you hand over your idols to Jesus, daily, hourly, moment-by-moment, you are now a witness who bears truth to God’s healing power, and because you’ve handed over your idols you are going to start feeling like a sojourner here on earth. You won’t “fit in,” and that’s a beautiful thing. Idols have no place in the life of a Christian, and a Christian knows they can’t find a real home in a world that worships them. You, belonging to Jesus, are constantly being healed, a worshipping sojourner that carries the message of truth and abundant life: that only Christ can really, fully, heal us.