There are reasons why we are not whole.
Sometimes the fault is not our own; sometimes our un-wholeness is a result of the choices of others. Sometimes we are dealt illness that cannot be cured; we are captive by diagnoses and that cannot be restored.
Sometimes we are ill because it’s easier to be sick than to do what it takes to become whole.
There’s the story of the paralytic man who stayed by the pool of Bethesda. This pool was located in Jerusalem near a sheep market, and it had five porches. There’s not much description about that pool in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. We know that every day people gathered there waiting for the moving of the water. At a certain season, an angel would come down and stir the water. Whoever stepped into that water first was healed. It didn’t matter what the disease was — there was instant healing.
I’ve never been one to want to stand in line for hours to be the first person in a store or an event. But I can guarantee you that if I had an incurable disease, I’d make certain I was as close to the pool as I could get to increase my chances for healing. I’d be as near to the front of the line as possible, that’s for sure.
So there is this man who had this infirmity for 38 years. We don’t know how old he is; we just know he’s been paralyzed for 38 years. He’s there by the pool, hoping for a chance to be the first to get into the pool. He’s lying on his make-shift bed, waiting for the angel. Problem is, he doesn’t have anybody to help him, so his chances of getting there first are slim to nothing. Then Jesus comes.
Because Jesus is God, he knows all about this man. He knows he’s been there a long time in this same situation.
Jesus simply asks, “Do you want to be made whole?”
Really?! What kind of question is that? If he didn’t want to be healed, he’d never have been there in the first place. Of course, I know Jesus knows that.
The question wasn’t so much for Jesus as it was for the man: Do you really want . . . ?
The man doesn’t really answer the question. Rather, he explains why he hasn’t been healed — yet. He doesn’t have anybody to help him get into the pool, and others always get there before he does. Is he whining?! I don’t know, but I do know I’d probably be saying the same things if I were on his poolside bed.
Jesus gives him three things to do. John 5:9 says that he was made whole immediately. On the Sabbath, no less.
Imagine the disgruntlement of the Jews, who didn’t believe in working or healing on the Sabbath. Imagine the amazement of the neighbors who had known this man and his illness for years. Imagine their surprise to see him up, walking around. I’m sure there were quite a few people shaking and scratching their heads that day.
Jesus gave this paralyzed man three things to do. In the past, when I’ve been feeling despondent or think there’s no use in trying; when I figure I can never change; when I feel paralyzed emotionally or physically, I remember these three things.
I turn to that chapter in John and I ask myself, Do I really want to be made whole?
But of course, I want to be well. I do want to be whole.
Then why, I ask myself, is it so hard to take the next step, to do the next thing?
Jesus simply says, “If you want to be made whole, then there is something you must do.”
Or, in today’s voice, he would say something like this: Okay then. If you really want to be whole, then this is what you’ve got to do:
Rise. (Get up). Don’t just lie there feeling sorry for yourself. Stop wallowing in the place you are. Get up and get moving. You’re not getting anywhere by just staying there. You’re not getting anywhere waiting for someone else to do it for you. Stop being despondent. Do something. Move in the right direction. Don’t keep lying there.
Take up your bed. Yeah. You simply can’t lie around there anymore. Pick up that bed, because you’re not going back to where you were. If you pick up your bed, then you won’t be camping there anymore. It’s time to change your station by changing your location as well as your focus.
Walk. Just like that. Take one step, and another step; then another step. It was Lao-tzu, a Chinese philosopher, who said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s that thousand-mile trek that seems daunting. But taking one step at a time is the way to begin — and the way to continue. Easier said than done, I know.
Jesus says, “If you want to get there, you have to take that first step.”
Jesus healed that man because he obeyed. That paralytic man did those three things.
He got up, rolled up his bed, and walked. No physical therapy, no stretching and toning of those leg muscles; no massaging those legs to increase circulation. Just like that, he walked. It wasn’t any kind of magic potion or new concoction. It was a miracle.
I know Jesus still does miracles today. He still heals. He still tells us what to do if we ask. He finds us where we are, and he speaks to us. If we listen, we will hear him speak. Trouble is, (for me anyhow), I don’t always want to listen because I’m pretty sure I won’t want to do what he will ask of me.
Sometimes he speaks through his Word; sometimes he speaks through others. Sometimes he talks to us through songs. If we will listen, he will speak. He will tell us what to do. Then it’s up to us to do what he says we must do.
Sometimes I have prayed, “Lord Jesus, I do want to be made whole. Show me what to do.”
You’d be surprised at some of the things He has told me to do. He’s asked me to do simple things: make a loaf of bread for someone who has wounded me; pray for someone and ask God to bless them when I’d rather he blessed me instead; speak well of someone when I don’t think they deserve it; give a hand in the name of Jesus to someone who continually drains me and never returns grace to me; praise the name of Jesus when I feel like pouting; say his name — Jesus — when I can’t muster out any other word. It’s hard. Oh, sometimes it is so very hard. Yet it’s the only choice I have if I want to become whole.
That’s all a part of getting up and rolling up my bed of fears, my hurts, and my woes. I can’t wallow in it if I’ve rolled it up.
Yes, Jesus, I do want to be made whole.
I will get up.
I will roll up this bed.
I will walk!
When I do what you say, I will be healed and I will be made whole.
Gert Slabach is a member of Faith Mennonite Church in South Boston, Va., which is part of Mountain Valley Mennonite Churches. She blogs at My Windowsill, where this post first appeared.