Most of the healing stories in the gospels also have something distinctive about them, something unusual, something a little surprising. That unusual thing is often the key to the lesson of that particular story.
And again, our gospel reading is no exception. The unusual thing in our story is that the man Jesus heals does not really want to be healed. That is strange!
Virtually every healing story begins the same way. Someone approaches Jesus to ask him to heal that person or someone that person loves. People approach Jesus is all kinds of dramatic ways. An old woman sneaks up on him in a crowd. A blind man by the side of the road makes a ruckus to attract Jesus’ attention. A woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to heal her daughter even after Jesus has refused and insulted her. My personal favorite is two men who open a hole in the roof of a house so that they can lower their paralyzed friend into Jesus’ presence. The point is, lots of people go to great lengths to get Jesus to heal them.
Not this man. This man just sits there until Jesus approaches him.
Jesus asks the man if he wants to be made well. The natural answer is, yes. That is not what this man says. This man explains why he cannot get healed. No one helps him. People stand in his way. Others always get the healing first. It seems, at least to him, that he cannot be made well.
The irony is obvious. Jesus is standing right in front of him, offering help and healing. But he is not willing.
Jesus heals the man anyway, and that is where our reading for this morning ends. But the story keeps going.
When people criticize the healed man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he blames “the man who made me well.” When he learns Jesus’ name soon afterwards, he hurries to the religious authorities to inform them.
So, this man does not ask for healing, makes excuses when Jesus offers it, and betrays Jesus after Jesus does in fact heal him. The man is a jerk.
Still, even for a jerk, that seems odd. It seems like anyone would want to be healed if they could be.
And yet, strange to say, people often do NOT want to be healed. People are often like the man in our reading.
Now, when I reflect on how this story applies to my life, I like to take the role of Jesus. In my more arrogant moments, I picture myself offering healing to needy people, people like my wife. I have been trying to fix Carrie for years.
Let me be clear. That is NOT the lesson of this story. I do NOT get to be Jesus in this story. This story is NOT about the people who need to listen to me and do right.
I am the man sitting beside the pool. We ALL are.
Like the man in our story, we are all wounded in one way or another. Our wounds are real and often deep. There is a lot that we cannot change, that we simply have to endure.
Again like the man in our story, for most of us, there is the potential for some kind of healing. Jesus stands before us, asking us if we want to be made well.
But the big lesson in this story is that, like the man in our reading, we all sometimes resist the healing that God offers.
Sometimes we refuse to admit we need healing in the first place.
The obvious example is addicts. Addicts can spend a lot of time and emotional energy denying their addiction, denying their need for help and healing. That is why the first step in twelve step programs is to admit that we have a problem and that we cannot solve it alone. Until that step is taken, addicts close themselves off from the healing grace that God offers.
This is not just an issue for addicts. All of us need God’s help and healing. And all of us sometimes pretend that we do not, that we are fine, that we do not want or need help from God or anybody else. That is one way we resist God’s healing.
Other times, we do the exact opposite. We hold on to our wounds and will not let go.
Sometimes when I am irritated at Carrie or one of my children, I rehearse in my head all the ways in which my life is difficult. I think to myself how challenging my life is, and how hard I work, and how many sacrifices I have made for them, and how they do not understand or appreciate me nearly as much as I deserve.
In those ugly moments, I would not respond well if you reminded me that in fact I chose my life course, that I am blessed in many ways, that Carrie has made lots of sacrifices for me, and that Carrie routinely shows how much she appreciates me. (The boys are not quite as strong on that last!)
In those moments, I hold on to my wounds. I resist healing, just like the man Jesus heals in our gospel reading.
Yet a third reason people resist their own healing, and probably the biggest reason of all, is that they do not want to change.
This man has been lying beside the pool for thirty-eight years feeling sorry for himself. My guess is that most people who talked to him during all those years felt sorry for him too.
But not Jesus. Jesus does not offer the man sympathy. Jesus offers the man new life.
And new life means change. When Jesus gives this man new life, Jesus is making him responsible for himself. The man cannot just sit beside the pool any more. The man cannot complain that no one will carry him anymore. From now on, the man has to carry his own mat, that is, carry his own burdens.
That is a big change, and we do not like change. I heard not so long ago that a significant majority of patients do not make life changes even when their doctor tells them they will die if they do not. People will not quit smoking or drinking or lose weight or exercise more or whatever, even if their current habits are literally killing them.
Change—even change that clearly offers new life—is hard. And God’s healing, the new life that God offers us, means change.
So, in one way or another, we are the ill man in our gospel reading.
And Jesus stands before us, asking us if we want to be made well, if we want to experience some kind of new life.
And we resist.
And still Jesus stands there, offering us new life.
This story invites us to think about our answer.
Take a few minutes this week to apply this story to your life. Think about the ways you resist the healing that God offers. Pray for God’s help letting go of that resistance. Say yes when Jesus asks if you want to be made well.
And give thanks to God, in the name of the One who offers us new life. Amen..