31 Jul Do You Want to Be Made Well?
Do You Want to Be Made Well?
July 29, 2018
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Thirty-eight years is a long time to sit on your mat. Every day the same. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Nothing much changes.
Sitting on his mat has become a way of life for the man in John 5. His days are stagnant, as is his life. He is unable to see that the deep well of life that he seeks is within him. Instead, he’s convinced that life will bubble up outside of him, over there, in that magic pool of water. So, he sits on his mat waiting, watching, and hoping that things will change.
There was a belief that this pool of water called Beth-zatha had healing properties and that it could change one’s life. It was said that every now and then an angel would stir the water, the water would begin to bubble, and the first one in the pool would be healed. The man in today’s gospel won’t make a move towards the water until he sees the first bubble. He is living an “as soon as” life.
“As soon as the water bubbles, then I will scoot off my mat. As soon as I get to the pool my life will be better. As soon as I get into the water, all my problems will be solved.”
But it’s not true. The pool of Beth-zatha is an illusion. It convinces us that our life is nothing more than our circumstances. It deceives us into believing that life is to be found outside ourselves. It tricks us into living an “as soon as” life. Most of us know what that is like. We say to ourselves or maybe even out loud, “As soon as this or that happens, everything will be better. I’ll be happy. My problems will go away. I’ll be satisfied. All will be well.”
The pool of Beth-zatha has a strong attraction for us. It starts in childhood when we say, “as soon as I’m old enough, as soon as I can drive, as soon as I get to college, as soon as I move out on my own…” And it continues throughout our lives. “As soon as….”
- I graduate, get a job, get a better job;
- I get married or get out of this relationship;
- I have more time, more money, a bigger house;
- I have kids or the kids leave home;
- He changes the way he acts;
- She apologizes;
- They do what I want;
- I get through this difficult time in my life;
- I get a vacation, retire, move to the mountains;
- I get over this grief, this depression, this chronic ailment;
- I lose ten pounds, get in shape.
“As soon as…” You can fill in the blank with most anything. The problem is that there will always be another pool of Beth-zatha. In the meantime, life has been put on hold. You’ve pushed the pause button. You sit on your mat, self-imprisoned by the circumstances of your life.
The imprisonment is so great that when Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” the man doesn’t even answer the question. Instead he offers excuses. “I have no one to put me in the water. When the water bubbles, someone always cuts in front of me and gets in first.”
Now, please hear me: I am not suggesting that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant or don’t have real impact on us. Of course they do. To suggest otherwise is simply false. We are, however, more than our circumstances. Life is not to be found outside our various situations but within them. To believe something other than that is to live constantly looking for the next magic pool of Beth-zatha.
Do you want to be made well? On the surface, it might seem that this is a ridiculous question. “Duh…I’ve been stuck on this mat for thirty-eight years; of course I want to be well.” But wellness is a little more complicated than that because wellness involves change, and change is hard. And scary. And risky. It requires resources that we may or may not have. We’re not always as ready for wholeness as we like to think we are.
If we do want to be healed, the first order of business is to get honest about what paralyzes us. We’ve all got areas of life where we’re stuck, immobile; we’ve been replaying the same hurt, the same conversation, the same missed opportunity over and over again in our heads—in some cases for a lot longer than 38 years. Often, we are not even conscious anymore of how that past event keeps us glued to our mats, unable to fully live into our lives. Or, we’re paralyzed by fears, regrets, insecurities, hidden habits, judgmental attitudes, worry, anger or resentment. Our hearts and our relationships suffer from atrophy when we hang on to these things, no less so than the man at the pool whose legs won’t work. In some ways, our paralysis is even more debilitating because since its internal rather than external, it’s easier to cover it up and pretend it’s not there. Do you want to be made well? Then get honest about where you’re ill.
Next, are you willing and ready to change? For example, becoming well could mean confronting things that frankly, you’ve grown comfortable with. It might mean going back to school or using ‘tough love’ to deal with a family member. It might mean facing the truth about your health or our finances. It might mean disappointing someone or taking the risk of making a mistake. Healing could mean listening to the people around you who have been trying to point out some harmful habits, like how worry dominates your thinking and actions. Do you want to be made well?
One indication that we are ready to be made well is that we stop making excuses. No more, “it’s my wife’s fault,” or “that’s just the way I was raised,” or “you just don’t understand how awful my neighbor is,” or “it’s all society’s fault.” To stop making excuses is to take responsibility for what you can do, rather than focusing on what is beyond your control. It means there’s no more passing the buck.
Pay close attention and notice that Jesus does not help the man get into the water. He comes to him on his mat, the same mat and the same situation the man so desperately wants to escape and speaks words of life and resurrection. “Get up off your mat!” To quote Jesus a bit more accurately, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” It turns out, after all those years of waiting, of “as soon as” living, that the pool really wasn’t the fix the man imagined it to be.
Did you also catch the fact that the man does not leave his mat behind? Even with Jesus’ words of healing, the mat goes with him. His circumstances are real and not all his problems are solved just because he stands up. The difference is that he now carries them instead of his situation carrying and defining him.
This is very often how it works for us, too. Jesus doesn’t wave a magic wand and miraculously change all our external circumstances. He changes us. He calls us into a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking and thinking. When we stand and rise to this new way of life, we discover that things have changed, because we have changed. That doesn’t necessarily make life easy or mean we no longer have to deal with the very real, unpleasant, or challenging circumstances of life. It does make our situation more manageable and we engage our problems from a different perspective and position. The lure of “as soon as” is drained of its power over us. There is freedom where there was once imprisonment. Inertia gives way to creativity. Once stagnant waters within now bubble with new life.
The life Jesus offers does not happen “as soon as….” It happens now, in this place, at this time, with these people, in these circumstances. So, let me ask you: are you sitting paralyzed on your mat? Are you hanging around the pool of Beth-zatha waiting for something to change? If so, Jesus is speaking to you: “Do you want to be made well? Then stand up, get off your mat, pick it up and get moving.” In Jesus Christ, there is life to be lived. Thanks be to God. Amen.