John 5:1-18 The man at the pool. For May 1, 2016
“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asks a sick man lying beside the healing waters of the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem. The man had been there, among throngs of others who were blind, lame, or paralyzed for 38 years, ostensibly waiting to be made whole.
Jesus’ question, at first, appears to be a dumb one. I can almost imagine the man rolling his eyes and saying “DUH! Why else would I waste time lying here?’
I say the man is “ostensibly” waiting to be healed because I’m not convinced that is why he is there. Perhaps he was for the first few years, but after 38, he’s in a rut. The pool is a place where the crippled and helpless gather, and where people come to help them. It’s a good place to beg. It has become the man’s community. He has quit trying. This is normal life for him, his routine. He sounds resigned to his fate.
So when Jesus asks the “dumb question” the man gives him a defeatist kind of answer, an excuse for why he has never made it in to the pool. If he really wanted to be healed, if he still had hope, wouldn’t he have answered differently” A hopeful person might have responded with; “yes! Will you help me?” The man’s answer is a “poor me” answer, he is stuck in a victim mentality, a belief that he has no ability to change anything and that it is up to other people to do everything for him.
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. People often stay in bad relationships, unhealthy jobs, and continue in bad habits because it is what they know. It is their “rut” and change seems too scary or difficult, so they make excuses about why they need to stay in their rut.
A long while ago in university, I had a friend who fit this category. She was smart, nice looking, and I enjoyed her company…mostly. The one thing that was hard to deal with was her constant “poor me” talk. She talked as if everything was wrong with her life. No car, no boyfriend, no email on her computer (this was a long time ago-no cell phones yet). She became known for ‘cornering’ sympathetic people with long sob stories. It became her mode of operation, her rut, her way to get attention. She refused a mutual friend’s offer to set up her computer to receive email. She turned down a classmate’s invitation to go for coffee. (I didn’t understand the refusal. He was a brilliant student and an interesting guy. If I hadn’t been dating someone, I would have gone for coffee with him!) It’s like she was looking at the pool of Bethesda, and refusing offers of help to get in because that would change everything she was used to.
Jesus doesn’t back off, and he doesn’t help the man get in the pool. Instead, he says; “Stand up, pick up your mat and walk.” He hears and refuses the sob story. He does something real and immediate, there is no time for the man to develop all sorts of rationalizations and excuses for staying where he is.
The man’s reaction is fascinating. When the Pharisees immediately chastise him for carrying his mat on a Sabbath (another whole topic-ridiculous legalism)the man makes an excuse and defers the blame to Jesus. He is still in “victim” mode, everything is someone else’s fault! Instead of joy and dancing and owning his actions, he points a finger elsewhere. This blaming mentality is one of the ruts of the perpetual victim mode. It is sad, but understandable. After 38 years, this man doesn’t know how to be healthy, how to take responsibility, he doesn’t know where to walk, how to earn a living, who he will be with in community…his whole life has to change. That is a huge thing to face.
People often stay in bad situations and accept poor ways of doing things because the alternative, while it might be better (probably is better) is unknown and scary. They feel stuck.
The answer, thank goodness, isn’t only up to the crippled man, it isn’t only up to us. Jesus intervenes and heals, whether we give him a straight and honest answer or not. He gives us the gift of wholeness, what we do with it is up to us. I’m not impressed with the attitude and actions of the healed man, however, there is some hope here. Jesus finds the man in the temple, (Giving thanks? Seeking direction?) After meeting Jesus that second time, the man becomes a witness, spreading news of Jesus among the Jews. That sounds positive, not victim like!
Where are you resisting the wholeness Jesus offers? Are you stuck in an unhealthy rut, blaming others for the situation? When Jesus heals you, where will you walk, how will you talk?
Do you want to be made well? Maybe not such a dumb question.