7 Questions God Has for You: Do You Want to Get Well?
Rev. Louis Timberlake
July 31, 2016
John 5:1-15: 5 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew[a] Beth-zatha,[b] which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.Now that day was a sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in[d] the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Can faith or prayer lead to healing from a physical illness? I’d suspect that some of you would say, “Of course. If it is God’s will then our faith and prayers can make a difference.” Well, of course, the question raised is, if people don't experience physical healing, is their faith simply not strong enough?
Others of you might say, “No, faith healing is bogus. Any healing that cannot be explained scientifically is simply because we have not yet advanced our scientific knowledge far enough to account for it. It’s not divine intervention.” With that, of course, you could ask, “Do we not believe that God is active in our world? Do we have definitive proof that a seemingly miraculous healing is not the work of God?”
And, still others of you might say, “I just don’t know.”
I wonder if this is one of those things where it’s ok to have a little uncertainty. I’ll admit that I do. We know God works in ways that we do not always comprehend. We know that there are things about our bodies and the natural world that we do not fully understand. I don’t know that you have to try and draw a hard line.
I love the way that Sara Miles framed it in the video we watched. The difference between healing and curing. So often, when we talk about healing related to faith, we’re talking about curing. Curing a disease or condition, alleviating suffering, physical restoration. But, Sara Miles talks about healing in a different way. She says, “The real healing that God is always doing is restoring Creation to order.” Healing, in this way, is about mending the brokenness in our world and in our lives. Curing may happen or may not happen in the here and now, but we can experience a different sort of healing.
Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” Another potential translation of it is, “Do you want to become whole?” I think that’s helpful because, for us, wholeness opens up a new level of meaning. What does it mean to be whole?
We think of being healed as the opposite of being sick. Wholeness is not the opposite of sickness, but brokenness. Wholeness is not the absence of problems or ailments, but an abiding sense of hope, peace, love, and joy.
The man’s response to Jesus’ question is interesting. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” It’s an odd response. Jesus is asking what seems like a yes or no question.
Now, there’s a reason for this. There was a popular belief at the time that this particular pool had healing powers. In many of your bibles, you may have realized that it jumps from verse 3 to verse 5. Many translations will leave out verse 4 in the main text and add it as a footnote, because many of the early manuscripts of John’s gospel don’t have that sentence. If you add it back in, verses 3 & 4 go like this, “In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed, waiting for the stirring of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.”
So, when this man responds to Jesus in this way, it makes sense. To him, Jesus’ question is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter where or not he wants to be healed. He can’t make it to the pool in time. In fact, the question is almost a little bit insulting. It seems to pin the man’s lack of physical wellness on insufficient desire!
But, I wonder if he and we misunderstand Jesus’ question? He hears Jesus’ question and assumes that he means physical wellness. Now, of course, the man is cured in such a way that he is able to walk again. Physical restoration does take place in this story. But, the heart of this story is about a larger vision of restoration.
In verse 14, Jesus finds the man in the Temple and says to him, “See, you have been made well!” Now, this is an interesting sequence of events. Jesus heals the man of his infirmity and the man gets up and walks. Now, wouldn’t that be the right time for Jesus to say, “See, you have been made well!”? But, he doesn’t. No, he waits until later, when he finds the man in the Temple, offering himself to God. Jesus doesn’t proclaim him well after the physical restoration. He proclaims the man well after the spiritual restoration. This is the type of wholeness that Jesus offers.
Then he says something that probably bothers most of us. It’s ok to be bothered by scripture. If you’re not bothered from time to time, then either you’re not reading it right or you’re not taking it seriously. He says, “Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Yikes.
Is Jesus suggesting here that the man’s thirty-eight years of infirmity is the result of some sin? Is Jesus suggesting that God works in that way? Do something wrong and something bad happens to you? Jesus is actually asked that exact question in the thirteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel and he responds with a clear “NO!” In our passage today, nothing links this man’s condition with any wrong he might have done.
So, what is Jesus saying here? I think part of it has to do with how we understand sin. Sin is not about God keeping a long list of all the things we have done wrong. My favorite explanation of sin is one I think I’ve shared with you before. It comes from one of Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. He talks about God as the source of a captivating, compelling song that is woven into the fabric of the universe. The music of Creation, of life. Closeness to God is about learning to hear and play in harmony with that music. So, sin is about being distant from God, playing out of tune or playing the wrong notes. A life of sin is a life of dissonance.
So, in telling the man to turn away from sin, Jesus is telling the man to play in harmony with the great music of God. “You’ve caught a glimpse of the true song, so continue to learn it and play it. In that, you will find true life. Apart from that, there is no life.”
Jesus is offering something much greater than physical restoration. He’s offering wholeness, the wholeness that comes through closeness with God, through harmony with the great melody of Creation. He doesn’t proclaim the man whole until he finds him in the Temple, because his physical state is not what determines his wholeness. It’s about his relationship with both God and Creation.
Seeking this wholeness is about two things. It’s about what God does for us, God helping us to discover the great music of Creation and to recognize our need to be in harmony with it. And, it’s about how we respond. Let me end with a couple of observations about responses in this passage.
First, I’m interested in the man’s response. Jesus asks the man to stand up and walk. How easy would it be for the man to respond, “As if it were that simple. Quit bothering me man, I can’t walk!” But, because he responds, he finds wholeness. A faithful response to God takes us out of what is easy and familiar. Finding wholeness requires us to move beyond our present reality.
Second, I’m interested in the response of the religious leaders. They see the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath, and they are quick to tell him that he is doing wrong. Now, it’s unlikely they knew every sick or disabled person. They probably didn’t realize, at first, that he was a walking miracle. But, the story would have come out. And their response is twofold--to slap the man on the wrist and to plot against Jesus. God has done something incredible, and the response of the religious leaders is to point out the rules that have been broken. It’s a great reminder to the Church. How do we respond, when God does something unexpected and unfamiliar? When people experience God in a powerful way, do we respond with excitement and awe, or do we get upset about the rules and traditions that were broken?
As I said at the beginning, I have a lot of uncertainty about the relationship between faith and physical healing. I wrestle with a skeptical heart, while also having heard firsthand accounts of miraculous healings that seem to be the work of God. I don’t know why some find healing and some do not.
What I do know, what I do believe, is that God offers us a wholeness that is greater than any physical healing. A wholeness that comes through relationship with God and others. A wholeness that produces hope, joy, and meaning. But, that offer requires our response, as individuals and as the Church. As individuals, it requires us to step out of what is easy and familiar into a new reality. As the Church, it calls us to be a catalyst, to seek out where God is at work, even in unfamiliar and unexpected ways, and to join in that work, so that the world might come to know the wholeness that we find in Christ.
- Share a time that you witnessed powerful healing in your life or the life of someone else. It can be any type of healing (physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, etc).
- Share your thoughts the connection between faith and healing. Does miraculous healing correlate to strong faith or a lack of healing to a weak faith?
- Share your thoughts on the various types of healing we can receive from God.
- Share what you think it takes for us to receive healing of some type from God.