Saturday, 21 May 2022

Do You Want to be Healed?

So there's a footnote to the passage in John 5 which, if you're reading the King James version is verse 4.
And it tells us that the pool at Bethesda, every now and then, was stirred by an angel. And when the water was disturbed, then the nymph Salmacis would come to the demigod Hermaphroditus and...

Sorry. I've got John's Gospel and a Genesis song confused again, haven't I?

But it's a reminder of how deep - ho-ho - our sense of the beauty, the holiness, the strangeness of water is. When I consider the remarkable engineering works of the Fens I think to myself - that was an act of desanctification. A use of brute force and human logic to make the water obey. Look, we shall cause rivers to run above the fields. We shall make water run uphill. We shall dry up the Naiads' homes. We shall drive Will o' The Wisp from his marshy fastness. We shall exert dominion over the land.

But here we have this magic healing pool. Where every day for 38 years this man has come on the off chance he will be healed. Thinking that in the unlikely event he's first in, in the unlikely event that the water is disturbed - maybe he'll be healed.

38 years of someone dropping him off - as if he can't get into the water, I'm sure he can't get to Bethesda unaided - and then leaving him there all day. 38 years of someone collecting him on the way back from work.

38 years of thinking, if I do get into the pool, and if it doesn't work, I may just drown.

And so the question Jesus asks - do you want to be healed?

I met an old Londoner once. He was a teenager during the Second World War. At the end of the War, taking advantage of the new opportunities that peace brought, he took up burglary.

He wasn't a very successful burglar. He was always getting caught. But he stuck at it. In the 50s and 60s he'd hang out on the fringe of fashionable London. He'd note when the minor celebrities he knew were out - then go round their places and burgle them. He'd always get caught. And go back inside.
When I met him, he'd been pursuing a career of theft and repeated incarceration for 50 years. He didn't seem over-sad with his lot. The thugs left him alone. He was a kind of Blanco character, for those of you who remember Porridge. He had a little room he didn't have to pay rent for, he had order and a schedule. He liked to come along to the chaplaincy group. Though maybe he didn't listen too much to the eighth comandment. He was comfy in prison

Maybe this chap's the same. Maybe he knows his life isn't going to change. Maybe he knows he's stuck in this routine for the next number of years. Maybe he's quite resigned to what he's got. Maybe that's why Jesus says to him, "do you want to be healed?"

Maybe that's why he doesn't answer Jesus with "yes", or "no", but with a complaint. "I never get in the water in time because nobody helps me." Maybe he doesn't realise this is an offer from Jesus. Maybe he thinks it's just a general enquiry. Maybe he thinks Jesus is suggesting he doesn't try hard enough - so he has to explain himself. 
Or maybe he thinks Jesus is patronising him, and he's choking back the frustration - "Thirty-eight years of laying by this pool, hoping to be healed. Thirty-eight years of getting nothing. When shepherds were turning up at your stable, young Rabbi, when you were a baby in swaddling clothes - when you were still the intense subject of your step-father's suspicion - all that time ago - I had been coming here, and getting disappointed, for five years. What do you think, do I want to be healed?"

But after 38 years, maybe he's settled for his role as eternally disappointed man by the pool. Or maybe he's told himself he has.

"Take up your bed and walk," says Jesus. And while that's a command - maybe the man's being made whole still depends on his response. I say "made whole" - because healing's beyond just the bodily. Some of the people I know who have disabilities are the wholest people I know. But this man has sunk into a comfortable failure. As Jesus says "take up your bed", the man has two choices. To take up his bed, or to conclude he cannot take up his bed.
So is he going to accept God's grace? A free offer of healing from Jesus? An unasked for, unexpected blessing? Or will he shrug, say good things never happen to him, and settle down to watching for another ripple in the pool he will never get into in time?
He takes up his bed and walks. Turns out, he does want to be made whole.
You know what a story about Jesus's healing is not? A recommendation for people to go our and demand to pray for others, who have often been prayed for a thousand times before whether they liked it or not. Healing may happen - but when it does it's rare. People with disabilities are not there to make other people feel happy about their own faith.

What this story is though is about what Jesus offers to all of our lives. We can get in our rut. Want nothing to change. And yet - God's grace here is given free - the man hasn't even asked it. It's been found unexpectedly. And it is beyond what he could ever imagine.

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