This last Sunday the Gospel reading in the Liturgy…I have been thinking about it ever since. It won’t let me go.
I have been pondering the Paralytic who laid by the pool of Bethesda, waiting for the angel of God to stir the waters of healing. We don’t know his name. In Scripture he is defined by his condition. That and the fact that he lay by the edge of the water for a long time. We don’t know how long. We do know that he had his condition for 38 years. He had no one to put him in the water. So, he just hung out there with his longing and his paralysis, watching other people be made well.
I wonder if he felt jealousy or resentment? Perhaps. I would like to think though that he could see others make it to the water first and cheer for them and say, “I am so happy for you” and truly mean it. I will persist in imagining him that way. The idea of a bitter and resentful man who had contempt for those who are healed simply because it could not be his has no appeal for me. I would rather believe he was inspired with hope than throwing an inner tantrum of “When is it going to be my turn?!?!”
What we do know is that he wanted to get well. We know because Jesus asked him directly. When Jesus asks a direct question, we can’t hide. He already knows the answer. It is our humanity that may or may not have the courage to answer him truthfully.
Jesus told him to pick up his bed and walk. And he did.
He was willing to be healed. And he was obedient.
“If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land…” Isaiah 1:19
The waters here prefigure our baptism and the healing that God desires for each of us. Yet, many of us are quite accustomed to hanging out by the edge of the waters of life. Maybe we like it there. Maybe life on the edge of a miracle allows us to see what is possible without having to be brave enough to experience it. Theoretical faith is more comfortable than experiential.
It does take courage. To let go of the things to which we have grown accustomed and to be all in takes an act of real faith. God offers everything. But he will not choose it for us.
In the culture of identity politics it is so easy to define ourselves by our conditions. We have labels for everything. We can keep defining and redefining and refining ourselves to the enth degree only to find that the extreme minority is always the individual. And we end right where we started. Just me—looking at Jesus. He sees me as me. Not me as a victim, a trauma survivor, a racial minority, a single mom, or divorced. He sees the individual, not the labels I use to define myself or the ones society puts on me. He asks me, like the man on the edge, “Do you want to be well?”
Just like the Paralytic, I have a choice. Obey the words of the One who really sees me or become a permanent fixture of the edge, being defined by my condition. For some there is a payoff to being defined by their condition. I mean, for real though, in our culture it does give someone a little more social cred when their individuality can be summed up by a tidy hashtag or represented by a logo/flag/color/organization/foundation/party. We all want to be unique, just like everyone else.
I think the Angel of God still stirs the waters of healing. Yet most of us like to hang out on the edge with other people who can relate to our condition, who accept our condition as part of our personality.
When God looks at me stripped of all the labels, what does he even see?
What is life like lived all in—immersed in healing waters?
What does it look like not to need this stinky mat I have been laying on for 38 years?
Jesus’ voice must have been so tender to that man. I don’t sense judgement in the Lord’s voice. Because I have heard it myself and it never sounds like harsh judgement. It always sounds like affection and life giving love.
“Do you want to be well?”
That simple question reveals the Lord’s intent. He desired to heal. He was offering everything. I know because the Lord doesn’t offer something only to rip it away as a cruel jest. He is no playground bully.
The man lay by the healing waters, until the one who is water of life came to him. Which is another thing, isn’t it? Sometimes when we don’t have the strength to get to the water, the water will come to us.
I am ready to let go of the edge.