Humans are funny creatures. One of our greatest traits is our ability to adapt to almost any set of circumstances. Humans have lived in some of the most extreme climates on the planet – deserts, frozen tundras, dense jungles, and southern Indiana. We can adapt and thrive in just about any kind of environment.
Just don’t ask us to change.
It’s really weird. We’re super adaptive, but we resist change. We fight to the bitter end to make sure things stay exactly the same. Because we get comfortable. Adapting is doable but difficult. Staying the same takes very little mental or physical effort. We are strong and we adapt…but we would really rather not. We’d much prefer to take the path of least resistance, even if it’s to our detriment.
Jesus was known for his miracles. Once word got around that he could heal people, the broken and diseased masses began making their way to him. He could heal virtually any disease or disability. That was even part of his own divinely foretold mission statement from way back in Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion…
When his cousin, John the Baptist, wanted reassurance that Jesus really was the Messiah, Jesus sent this word back to John:
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Healing was a vital part of Jesus’ ministry. That’s why this interaction in John 5 is so strange. Notice the question Jesus asks and the man’s response.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Some manuscripts add an explanation about why all these sick and disabled people would gather around this particular pool: “they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.”
Did this really happen? We don’t know. Apparently there was enough of a belief in the healing power of the water that numerous people gathered there daily, sometimes for years.
This guy had been paralyzed for 38 years. Day after day he had a friend or family member drop him off by the pool just for a small chance that he would be made well. Or had he given up hope by this point? It seems to me that this man was actually good with his lot in life. He had come to accept it. He wasn’t ever going to get well, so he may as well spend his days with people who understood his predicament.
Then along came Jesus. Out of all the people in need around that pool, Jesus saw this man. Why did he single him out? I don’t know. Maybe Jesus somehow knew that this guy had been there longer than anyone else. We’re not sure. But I find it fascinating that Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to get well?”
Most of us would think, Of course he wants to get well! Don’t ask, just heal him.Obviously. But Jesus asked. And the man didn’t say Yes, of course! Instead, he did what we all do. He started making excuses for why he wasn’t better already.
I have no one to help me.
Someone else always beats me to it.
The system is rigged.
They want me to fail.
It’s not fair.
I can almost guarantee you he had those lines rehearsed in his head. He probably talked about it to his other paralyzed buddies. He probably complained loudly and often to everyone else around the pool, getting them all worked up and outraged, too. Misery loves company, after all.
Do you want to get well?
What if Jesus asked us that question, too? Imagine if Jesus saw what you were “venting” about on Facebook or Twitter and he commented, “Do you want to make this better?” Ugh…isn’t that the worst? There are times you just want to complain and vent your frustrations. The last thing you want or need is someone going into fix-it mode for you. (I’m super guilty of doing that, by the way. If you have a problem, I want to help you fix it or find solutions. Sorry!)
Do you want things to get better with your spouse, or do you just want to complain?
Do you want your kids to become more mature and better behaved, or do you just want to vent?
Do you want to mend relationships with your co-worker, or do you just want to bad mouth them behind their backs?
Do you want to get through this depression, or do you just want to stay in bed and hope you can sleep it away?
Do you want to get over your porn addiction, or do you just want to go to bed feeling guilty every night?
Do you want to lose weight, or do you just want to fat-shame yourself?
Do you want to get over your anger problem, or do you just want to continuously apologize to your family for losing your cool?
Do you want to get well?
There’s a very real phenomenon in the world of counseling and mental health. Therapists cannot help a client unless they are willing to do the work. A counselor can give a client all the tools necessary to improve their mental health and mend relationships, but unless that client is willing to utilize those tools, no healing can occur. We are excellent at coming up with excuses and procrastinating. We all say we want to change and get better, but we get comfortable with our pain and brokenness.
Often we find ourselves doing exactly what this paralyzed man did.
1) We blame others. (I have no one to help me into the water…)
Our problems would all go away if so-and-so would just do whatever. Or maybe we become too dependent on others, so when they don’t show up for us we just give up. We’ve never done it on our own, so we don’t think we can do it on our own. It’s always someone else’s fault. Our happiness and wellbeing are reliant on what others do and say.
2) We over estimate what we are actually doing. (When I try to get in…)
We have a tendency to overestimate our activity level and underestimate the amount of fat and sugar in our diets – then we wonder why we aren’t losing weight. We download a meditation app and think we’re well on our way to solving our anger problem. We go to church once or twice a month and think we’re solid Christians. We try to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum, and when that doesn’t work, we throw our hands up in surrender, because what else could we be doing?
3) We compare ourselves to others. (someone else goes down ahead of me)
I’m just not as outgoing as they are. I’m just not as naturally pretty as she is. They make it look so easy. They didn’t really work for it, they just got lucky. Any of this sounding familiar? Sometimes seeing those before and after pics on Instagram can be harmful. When we compare our worst days to other peoples’ best days, it can lead us to give up. We think we’ll never be as strong or thin or pretty or smart or wealthy or emotionally stable as those other people, so why even bother?
Do you want to get well?
Jesus didn’t buy his excuses. He didn’t say, “Oh you poor thing. Tell me more, and let me throw a pity party for you.” He just told him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The guy was instantly cured. But if you read the rest of the story, he’s not really happy about it. This healing took place on the Sabbath, and the religious leaders were upset that Jesus would command someone to “do work” by carrying his mat on the Sabbath.
And the guy totally ratted Jesus out for it!
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
I really don’t think this man wanted to be healed. He didn’t actually want to get well. He had a community at that pool. This paralyzed life was all he had known for 38 years. He had grown used to it and comfortable with it. Now he was forced to change, to leave the group by the pool and to live an actual life for himself. He could no longer have all the excuses.
What would happen if Jesus took away your excuses? What if there was no more blaming others, no more overestimating yourself, no more comparisons? For some of us that wouldn’t be liberating, that would be terrifying. But it doesn’t have to be. Because the cool thing is that Jesus promises us that he will be with us every step of the way. He will never leave us or forsake us. He is with us always, even to the end of the age. Examine your excuses. Rip off that bandaid in one swift, decisive motion. Pick up your mat, whatever the “mat” might be for you, and walk.
“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked.