Do you want to be made well?
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
May 26, 2019—Easter 6C
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 5:1-9
Never underestimate the power of a question. And never doubt that the way a question is asked makes all the difference in the world. As anyone with an expertise in polling can tell you, the wording of a question can change the results by high levels of significance. Buzz words can evoke positive or negative reactions; questions can be highly leading; and the options one is offered might lead to a forced choice, obscuring other possibilities.
Reputable pollsters try to control against too much skewing. Some even do studies to examine what adding in an extra piece of information does to affect responses. But in general, poll questions are there to be answered. They aren’t meant to be opening up possibilities and wondering. They are meant to be answered.
Jesus has a different M.O.
His questions are often unexpected, and almost always open up possibilities and wondering. Remember when Bartimaeus called out to him and begged for assistance, and Jesus asked him, “What is it you wish me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)? Which would have seemed less weird if Bartimaeus hadn’t been blind, and of course everyone around would have been thinking, “Well, DUH, Jesus! He wants to be able to see!” And yes, that IS what Bartimaeus asked of him. But I love the fact that Jesus left that question open. Because we shouldn’t assume that we know what someone wants or needs. We really don’t know what their deepest pain or suffering is, what it is within them that cries out for healing or salvation.
And today we see this again. Jesus approaches this man who has been laid out beside the pool for 38 years. Thirty eight years he has lived within sight of a pool reputed to bring healing, if only you can be in the waters when they are disturbed by the power of God. And Jesus looks at the man, and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”
Perhaps it’s just an offer of assistance. Then again, the man’s response sounds a bit as though he’s afraid Jesus is accusing him: If you want to be made well, how come you haven’t gotten into the pool yet? So he explains his problem of access, and Jesus waves it off and heals him on the spot.
No matter how the man heard the question, I feel as though Jesus is once again setting aside assumptions, while also inviting deeper reflection: what is it that you want? What does need healing within you? And is there anything in you that is afraid, that might be resistant to what healing would mean for you?
I spent this last week at a conference for Gen X and Millennial clergy, whose focus was very much on whether the church is dying, and if so, what might lead it toward resurrection. Which prompted us to look at how we were defining “death.” What is the measure of the life and health of the Church? Is it a question of average attendance, societal status, or whether Christianity is a majority religion? Is it a question of courageous prophetic voice, gifts of the Spirit, or how well we love and serve one another?
Healing will mean very different things, depending on what we think sickness and death are. And some remedies might well invite us to wonder why we asked for them in the first place. Fixing attendance numbers seems like the simplest, but who will the people be that Jesus floods through our doors? They might be here because “it’s what people do,” and go home as soon as that box is checked for the week. Or they might be a crowd of homeless people, physically and spiritually hungry, whose needs and presence test our compassion and stretch our faith. Or they might just be folks who don’t quite see the world as we do, unsettling our mostly comfortable community.
Do we want to be made well? And are we ready for what Jesus would do, if we asked him to fix it? Do we want to be brave enough to be prophetic? Humble enough to serve? Open enough and counter-cultural enough to be filled with the gifts of the Spirit and a loud love of Jesus? Do we?
It’s hard to answer on an institutional level. Just as hard on a personal level. Are we ready to admit what needs healing within us? And if so, are we ready to do what’s necessary to get better? And if that, do we really want to live in that new reality?
What do you want me to do for you? Do you want to be made well?
Do you know what your sickness is? You certainly might, even though it might not be the most obvious thing about you to others. But you also might not. Not really. Our self-diagnoses can be wildly skewed by what the people and culture around us TELL us is wrong with us. We are too (fill in the blank) or not (fill in the blank) enough, and if only we could fix that, it will all be perfect!
Except it won’t, of course, since none of those blanks is the actual sickness … though, the self-loathing might be! We can be healed of that, if we ask Jesus. If we are really ready to walk away from competing on that playing field. After all, those standards have so much power. And look, every once in a while, you win. And that victory is very, very sweet.
Do you want to be made well? Do you want to admit what is broken in your life? It’s not always that easy. Even if Jesus gives you the ability to get up, you still need to keep walking! You need to keep acting. Keep acting more generously, perhaps. Keep trusting. Keep resisting temptations that you’re really rather tempted by. Keep thinking of others before yourself, or start thinking of yourself before others. Keep acting, that is to say, against those destructive instincts that you’ve been allowing yourself all these years. Take hold of the healing that Jesus offers, no matter how hard it is to keep your grip.
What is it that you want Jesus to do for you? Deep down, past all the fear and resistance, past the self-delusion or the other voices … what is it inside you that yearns to be well, to be whole, to be light and life? And once you know what that is, are you ready to say yes to his offer? Are you ready for a new kind of life? Are we? May it be so, Amen.