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Read John 5:1-18.

So here’s this paralyzed man flat on his mat by the healing waters of the Pool of Bethesda. For 38 years he’s suffered with his paralysis and withered limbs. He lies on his mat waiting for the spirit to move and make it into the water. For 38 years he has waited there among many others who have come for healing.

Jesus approaches this man on his mat and asks a very strange question, “Do you want to get well?”

I’m a little disturbed that Jesus would ask such an obvious question. I could really excuse the poor man for being smart aleck in his response. What is the man supposed to say? “Let me think about that, Jesus! I’ve been pondering that very thought for 38 years and I just can’t make up my mind.”

I have to wonder what Jesus is doing. He supposed to know these things. He knows that the man has been ill for some time. He knows that people are gathering in this place for the specific purpose of being healed – and yet he asks this man who has suffered for longer than Jesus himself has been on earth, “Do you want to get well?”

But maybe Jesus knows more that we’ve supposed. Maybe when we read this carefully we begin to see the truth and honesty in Jesus’ question. Notice that the man doesn’t say, “Oh yes, I want to be healed.” Rather, his answer is something like an explanation as to why he isn’t healed. After all, even if he has to be the first in the pool when the water gets stirred up, I would think imagine that maybe he could get in first at some point in four decades. But he explains (or is it an excuse), “I have no one to help me into the pool. Someone else always gets there before me.”

Maybe Jesus really wants to know if this man is committed to being well, or has he become comfortable in his illness. It’s a fine line between struggling with a problem and holding on to it so that it defines us. For 38 years, the only life this man knew was lying on his mat by the pool of healing waters. Always on the edge waiting and hoping but never going in to the water. Giving up his life on the mat, even though it doesn’t sound very good, can be challenging. After all, what’s next for a someone like him?

Let’s really pay attention to this story. As is always the case with John, he doesn’t intend for us to take his gospel entirely literal. This is the author of Revelation and his gospel is almost as symbolic. So we have to develop the ears to hear.

This is not a proof text for a health and wealth gospel that says that our chronic conditions are due to a lack of faith. The fact that people struggle with a health problem or a some other malady is not an indication of their weak faith or God’s lack of concern or misfortune (Just wait till we get to John 9 and the blind man) But if this unnamed paralytic is representative, as is the unnamed Samaritan woman, then what does this mean.

Wellness and health is about more than physical healing. It involves the way we live. This has broad application to our individual lives and our lives together. Beware the qualified responses to the question: Do you want to get well? Do you want to be healthy and sound? Do you want to change your condition? It sounds like yes, but it’s not.

“Well, yes – but there’s no one who understands me.”
“Well, yes – but my situation is unique.”
“Well, yes – but other people don’t seem to care.”
“Well, yes – but other people may not appreciate it.”

The forms are endless, but the formula is the same. Sure we want to get well, we want to overcome addiction, we want to change our attitude, we want to get out of an unhealthy relationship, we want to give more, we want to get out of debt, we want to stop abusing ourselves, we want to stop taking advantage of others, we want to give our life to Christ – BUT!

Jesus isn’t just asking the question to be polite. He wants to know if we are committed to being healthy. He removes all the excuses through his direct words: “Pick up your mat and walk!” Jesus is the word made flesh. He is the Son of Man who has come on behalf of the Father. He has come to save, not to condemn, and he offers us life eternal – new birth from above. Do we want that? Do we want eternal life and thus want to be made well?

Even if we are committed to being made well, there are others who might not be ready for it. For this man it was the Pharisees. There they are confronting this man, who for as long as they could remember was a withered heap on his mat by the pool. “Hey you there!” they call out, “You’re not supposed to being carrying that mat. It’s the Sabbath and what you are doing looks an awfully lot like too much work for the Sabbath.”

And notice how the man responds, “Well yes, but ... the man who made me well told me to do this.” They want to know who it was, and this man cannot or will not tell them. And so Jesus, who had disappeared into the crowd, presents himself again to this man. He says, “Stop sinning or something worse might happen.” That’s another strange thing to say, but it emphasizes that this is about more than just physical healing. If this man is going to be healthy, then he must live out his faith in Jesus and know who it is that made him well.

Another way we need to hear this story is to avoid the mindset of the Pharisees. These good people who knew their Scriptures and worked so hard to honor God, have tried to contain God within their customs and traditions. They have religious perfection refined to an art, but they have forgotten justice and mercy. They have taken the refreshment of the Sabbath and turned it into a burden. So, instead of rejoicing with this man who has had a life-changing encounter with the Son of God, they become religious referees and start blowing their whistles – Foul! Foul! Violation of the Sabbath! Loss of yardage, get back on the mat!

Beware the mindset of the Pharisees. They are withered up also – in their minds and hearts. They are well-intentioned dragons who are more interested in persecution than praise. “Who told you this error and untruth about the Sabbath?” They ask the man. When he finally names Jesus, they confront him and get more than they bargained for.

Jesus says, “God doesn’t take a day off and neither do I.” They were more upset about the violation of the Sabbath rather than the power of God to bring life.
As Jesus says in his own words, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”

Jesus is asking the Pharisees – “Do you want to be healthy?” Do you want to have life.

We don’t like to listen to Scriptures and sermons about the Pharisees and wonder if that’s us. They are always someone else. They are the villains. Being called a Pharisee is a great insult, and we don’t want that. But if we really want to be healthy and have life, then we have to open our minds and hearts -- for if there’s one thing that described the good Pharisees, it is their closed minds and hearts. That would be tragic to be like them. To be paralyzed and become more comfortable with our weaknesses.

How sad it would be if we continue to come right up to the edge of the pool Sunday after Sunday, but we don’t ever jump in.
How sad it would be, if we studied the Scriptures week to week, and it never leads us to life.
How sad it would be, if we praise one another and commend each other but we make no effort to obtain the praise from the only God.
How sad it would be, if we fail to have the courage to tell the truth about ourselves and the one who made us well.

I want us to be healthy – and I think you do too.
I want us to believe in God’s work – and I think you do too.
I want us to be open to God’s work – and I think you do too.
I want us to welcome those who want to get well – and I think you do too.
I want us (I want you) to be brave enough to accept the praise of Christ and not worry about what other think – and I think you do too.
I want us to put away excuses and pick up our mat and walk – and I think you do too.

Do you want to get well?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 February 2009

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