About this article
This sermon based on John 5:1-9 was preached at the Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University.
I don't think Jesus' question to the invalid man in this passage was an idle one. Did you catch it? His question was, "Do you want to be made well?" At first glance it seems obvious. It did to the man who had been ill for 38 years. He answered in the affirmative, saying that he had no one to bring him into the waters which were supposed to have healing properties. So why did Jesus bother to ask? Anyone in that situation would want to be healed, wouldn't they? Isn't it obvious?
My father's death several years ago left me bereft of personal strengths I had always taken for granted. His support and approval of me throughout childhood were so constant and predictable that I rarely acknowledged them and less often understood their importance to me. And, at the age of 40, I thought I had long grown out of the need for his constant encouragement and attention, though he never failed to give them. My bewilderment turned to depression as his loss settled in on me. I began to question myself in ways that I never had before, wondering if I was really who I thought, or if I were perhaps just a projection of my parents' wishes for me.
My tried and true spiritual resources dried up on me one by one during this time. Prayer and scripture reading became as flat as the paper they were written on. Worship didn't speak to me. I felt doubly hypocritical being in worship because I had to be there. Others came out of their free will. I wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been paid to be. To say I was feeling sorry for myself is only a faint glimmer of the force of my feeling at the time. I felt unprotected by a God who had always seemed as supportive as my dad. Now God seemed as remote to me as my dad's physical presence.
It was during this time that I began to take regular notice of my dreams. I have kept a dream journal on and off through my adult life. Now, however, my dreams began to be the only avenue that helped me understand what was happening to me. My terrors and fears gradually became visible to me as I saw their recurring patterns. From the distance of my own dreams, I began to understand some of the barriers I had erected in my life to keep myself safe, to keep myself protected. Ever so slowly, I began to face those fears and find feelings of well-being, safety and approval.
I also had a husband, son, brother, and two friends who wouldn't give up on me. I must have been a real downer to be around during those months, but they stood by. During that time when I was unable to hold up my end of being a mom, wife, and friend, I felt the true grace of others' faithfulness.
Ever so slowly, I learned to see God's presence in places I had never noticed it before. I saw the faithfulness of my friends and family as tangible signs that God had not left me utterly alone. I saw my dreams as places God could give me some help and insight. Ever so slowly, I accepted the healing that God was offering through these new and uncharted waters.
So it wouldn't have been an irrelevant question if Jesus would have asked me the question he asked the man in our story this morning. Sure, I would have wanted him to take away the pain of my grief and loss right away. But Jesus' healing also demanded a response on the man's part.
In accepting Jesus' healing, the man simultaneously gave up his dependence on others to attend to him. Did you notice that the healing which Jesus commanded included that the man pick up his own mat? From now on, he would not be getting attention by getting others to help and attend to him. Jesus gave him wholeness, including the ability to care for himself. So we, too, who know our own failings and infirmities, might ask ourselves, "Are we ready to give up our dependencies in order to allow God to make us whole?" What would Jesus heal you from? What would you be living without if you accepted Jesus' healing?
Those little things we use to make ourselves feel better, seemingly harmless, may be the very things that block our healing. It might be a relationship from which we demand too much. It might be a pleasure we get from someone else's failure. It might be a right we reserve to feel critical of others. Or being good Lutherans, it might be the right to feel guilty if we want to. Whatever it is we use "to get through our day," these are the things that bring us to our knees as Jesus asks us, "Do you want to be healed?"
Healing is gift, pure grace. But from it we are forever changed. Accepting our healing and taking our place in the Christian community is the follow-through in which we find ourselves in being healed. Whether we have been victim or perpetrator, violent or passively aggressive, mentally, emotionally, or physically scarred, those become no longer our identity. Healing includes our willingness to leave those behind and accept the new creation Jesus gives us. It is no surprise that we often cling to our infirmities long after they have served their usefulness. So think twice as you bring your wish for healing to Jesus. Make sure you are willing to take up your pallet and walk.