Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" (John 5:2–6)
This seems like an absurd question. Who wouldn't want to be healed? Maybe those who have become attached to their sickness, who prefer their own way to a better way, or who refuse help because they want to do things themselves, on their terms.
Jesus' question is not "are you sick?" or "are you suffering?" but "do you want to be healed?" He knows the man's sick and that he's been suffering a long time. What matters is whether or not the man wants to be healed. In his response to Jesus, the man says that he has been waiting for someone to lift him up and place him in the healing waters, but no one has done so. And so he has been lying there, in his misery, for thirty-eight years.
I find myself marveling at this man. After all that time, he still waits in hope. Indeed, he wants to be healed, but even more he is still waiting and wanting for someone do for him what he cannot do for himself. Who knows if he was always ready and always willing to be helped, but at this critical moment, he is. And so Jesus heals him, not against the man's will but rather with his consent.
Those thirty-eight years recall the span of time that the Israelites journeyed from Kadesh, where they rebelled against the Lord (Num 13:25–14:11), to the promised land of Canaan (Deut 2:14). They wanted to pick and choose their path at the beginning, refusing to be carried by the Lord their God who had already delivered them from slavery in Egypt. They were addicted to their own way. But over the course of thirty-eight grueling years of suffering and hardship, they were ready to accept the Lord's gift to them. With Israel, the Lord waited for them to want to be healed.
I say I want to be healed, I want to be well, I want to live in the love of Christ. But do I, really? His ways are not my ways, and to be healed means to allow myself to be lifted up into his ways, where I will be made well. As John Henry Newman preached, "We must become what we are not; we must learn to love what we do not love, and practice ourselves in what is difficult." Sometimes what is most difficult of all is really wanting what is good for us. May this journey through the desert of Lent soften our hearts and weaken our defenses so that we may say to our Savior, "Yes, Lord, I want to be healed."
Prayer: Lord Jesus, give me the courage to be vulnerable before you.