I want to begin with a story a friend recently told me. There once was a family who had two sons, one of whom believed he was a chicken. Yep, a chicken. The “normal” son went to see the school counselor to complain about his brother. During the meeting, the school counselor suggested ways that the “normal” brother could help his “chicken” brother get better and stop thinking he was a chicken. The boy replied “sure, that might work, but we’d sure miss the eggs”.
In case you need me to explain the punch line, sometimes it’s easier to complain about the problem than fix the problem.
And that brings me to Sunday’s gospel. Here we have a man who is infirm, in need of healing, waiting by the pool of healing waters for 38 years. And along comes Jesus and asks him “Do you want to be made well”.
This man by the pool is a man of no hope. Daily, he has been waiting by the pool. He has tried to get up and get into the pool, but someone always beats him there. He is at a point of despair. Wouldn’t you be if you’d been hoping to be healed for 38 years?
Jesus encounters the man and doesn’t heal him right away. Unlike other healing stories that we have from the gospels, the man doesn’t ask to be healed, rather, Jesus asks him “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus is respecting this man’s right to choose—he can stay in the present situation which is known and familiar, or risk the possibilities of what would be involved in getting well. And instead of a simple “yes” or “no” answer, the man gives Jesus excuses for all the reasons he can’t be made well. Remember my story’s punch line? “Sure, that might work, but we’d sure miss the eggs.”
When we have healing services at the midweek Eucharist, we often talk about what it means to be “healed”. Naturally, physical healing is talked about and we pray for the healing of those on our prayer list and others who are in our hearts. But there is also emotional healing, psychological healing and spiritual healing that is needed in our lives. We have broken relationships that need to be healed. We have self-images that need to be healed. We have unmet needs, desires and expectations that need to be healed. There is a lot of brokenness in our lives that needs healing.
To be made well means to be whole. It means being reconnected with others, all of creation, and God. It means no longer living in isolation, sitting on our mats by the pool waiting.
But to be healed is risky. Physical healing often requires us to go to rehabilitation. Emotional and psychological healing means confronting issues and relationships that have been damaging and need repair and reconciliation. Spiritual healing means acknowledging the distance that has been created between you and God, confession and repentance, and a change of heart. I say this is risky because it requires hard work…no more excuses…no more waiting…no more being a victim…no more being powerless.
And so Jesus reaches out to the man and heals him, simply saying “Get up, take your mat and walk”. It is both a command and an invitation. It is a command to stop making excuses, to stop waiting and to stop being powerless, but rather live into the wholeness that God intends.
Beth is away this weekend at Cursillo, and she is giving a talk there about service to others. In her talk, she quotes Joan Chittisher who said, “the greatest gift Jesus gives us is to be Jesus to others”. The invitation of “Get up, take your mat and walk” is exactly that…an invitation to respond to God’s love and be strong, courageous and hopeful. It is an invitation to be with Jesus in the service of healing and loving others. It is an invitation to be Jesus for someone else.
So what is it that’s weighing on our hearts that needs to be healed? Are we ready to get up and walk, or do we want to keep making excuses? Jesus is waiting for our answer.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.