“One man had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in this condition for a long time, he said, ‘Do you want to be well again?’” John 5:1-3
That seems like an odd question for Jesus to ask. The sick man has come to the waters known for their healing powers. Isn’t that enough indication of the man’s desire to be well?
Yet still Jesus asks him: “Do you want to be well again?”
We don’t know the exact nature of the man’s illness. The passage tells us that people with all kinds of infirmities knew these particular waters to be a place of healing. I imagine it being a bit like Lourdes, or the emergency room at a hospital.
In each of those places there are people in need, many who have suffered for years and some who have for decades been defined by their poor health. I am not sure a doctor would think of asking them if they wanted to be well again.
But maybe this is the key question?
Our problem is that we forget to remember our need. We need to practice remembering. Yes that sentence is a bit convoluted but I think we really need to remember it: We need to remember not to forget our need for healing.
And there are other times when we might feel in need of healing but we don’t remember to ask.
This gospel passage could remain a distant account of Jesus’ healing ability unless I can name the way in which I am suffering sickness and in need of salvation.
Here’s a quick five-point check-list.
- Am I dealing with illness of body or mind?
- Do I have a deep sadness, anxiety, worry for myself or for another person?
- Am I struggling with a particular sin which I am determined to overcome, yet hours or minutes after renewing my commitment I have sinned again?
- Am I struggling with a particular addiction, a compulsion that I am determined to overcome, yet hours or minutes after renewing my commitment I have fallen again?
- Even after a success in life do I find myself returning to a default setting of restlessness or dissatisfaction with my life?
If you have answered “yes” once or more in the above list, you are very fortunate since you qualify for healing.
And remember too that in another part of the gospel Jesus teaches that those who are well don’t need the doctor. So if you cannot respond yes to any part of the five questions above, well, you really do have a problem since you have no capacity for relationship with Jesus.
This is why spiritual growth can really only begin when the pilgrim experiences failure, suffering, sickness or sin. It’s only when we get to such a low point that we move to life in relationship with Jesus.
Remember yesterday’s gospel, quoting the scripture verse that sums up the entire ministry of Jesus and therefore the entire life of the Church: “God loved the world so much that he sent his own son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
On Sunday night I called in to visit someone who had been taken to the ER. While they were undergoing some tests I sat in the waiting room.
I’m not good at waiting, but at least I was more fit and healthy than many in the room, and unlike a number of them I was free from pain. I couldn’t help but notice that those who were sick and the friends and family who waited with them were relating to each other with real intimacy and tenderness.
There is a lesson there. When we are feeling vulnerable frail and needy our capacity for relationship both human and divine comes alive.
In other words, when we are weak, then we are ready for Jesus to make us strong.
- How do you experience your suffering, weakness, sickness or sin as your capacity for relationship with Jesus Christ?