A Simple Question
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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?'”– John 5:5-6
There is a common saying in recovery communities used when someone relapses and returns to alcohol or drugs: “Well, maybe they just needed to do a little more research.”
It is certainly gallows humor, but there’s some truth there. As much as you can lead someone in the right direction, show them the tools that will help them make better choices, and support them all you can, in the end nothing will help someone to recover unless they want to recover.
When Jesus comes to a man who has been lying at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years he asks him a deceptively simple question: “Do you want to get well?”
The man doesn’t answer him. Instead he tells him what was keeping him from getting well. Jesus seems to ignore these things and says simply, “Stand up, take your mat, and walk.”
It’s important not to equate physical disability with “getting well” in other senses. Jesus did the physical healing that not even modern medicine can do. But I sometimes wonder what Jesus would say to others who have been hanging around the pool for 38 years, for whom recovery is very much a choice.
To put it in recovery terms, no one chooses to be an alcoholic. That’s a disease over which no one has power. But when you’re sober, you can absolutely choose whether or not to relapse because in the end no one forces a drink down your throat.
In other words, “Do you want to get well?”
And I sometimes wonder what he would ask congregations who have been kicking the metaphorical can down the road for years and years, bemoaning a culture that has passed them by, blaming a changing world for declining membership.
“Do you want to get well?”
Truly, we who are “still sick and suffering” (and that includes the church) are not responsible for some things. But we are responsible for working with God towards our own recovery.
Great Physician, help me to say “yes” when you offer your healing to me. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter (New Hampshire) and the author most recently of Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear.