Sometimes it doesn’t seem quite fair.  Jesus hardly ever answers questions directly.  And yet, he continuously asks others questions that require a direct response—as in today’s scripture.  “Do you want to be healed?” he asks a man who has been waiting a long time for assistance at the Pool of Bethzatha.  Assistance that always comes too late.  “Well,” says Jesus, “get up.”

The unnamed man doesn’t know who Jesus is.

And later on they both catch flack because it’s the Sabbath.

But that’s all secondary.

What matters most is that the man is healed.  Healed because Jesus bothered to notice him.  A commentator named Debie Thomas notes that “When [Jesus] looks at the man who has been languishing for thirty-eight years, he sees more than sickness.  He sees defeat.  He sees resignation.  He sees psychological and spiritual stagnation.  He sees a man whose hope has dwindled.  A man whose imagination has atrophied to such a point that he can’t articulate what he wants for his body, his soul, his future.” (Journey With Jesus blog, 5/19/19)

This notion that Jesus fully saw the man awaiting healing is crucial.   Jesus looks upon the man as a beloved child of God, worn down by circumstances and a sense of helplessness.  A man unable to see alternatives to the path others said would work.  A man who sees no way out.  A man unaccustomed to anyone paying attention, let alone a perfect stranger.

But that’s what Jesus did.  He noticed people and their circumstances (as we also must, if we seek to be healing presences in the world).  He also often asked pointed and revelatory questions, getting to the heart of a matter.  I imagine it had been a very long time since anyone had really looked at the invalid man.  It had probably even been longer since anyone had asked the most important question he could hear: “Do you want to be well?”

Jesus asked about the why: a desire for healing. The what and the how were less important.  The man’s initial response to Jesus’s question lacks hope and imagination.  But the question works upon him; it sparks his heart for the first time in years.  Power and energy and healing come to life when Jesus helps the man remember why he is there.  When Jesus says “get up,” he can.

I don’t know how healing happens, let alone miraculous healing.  And I’m not convinced we can make any generalizations about healing; I only know that it happens sometimes, in ways we may not expect (or even like).  And healing manifests in many different ways.  Even the stories we have of Jesus healing people vary considerably.

A couple particulars about today’s scripture strike me, though.  The man (indeed everyone) laying near the Pool of Bethzatha was there because that’s what folks—desperate folks—were supposed to do.  He had given over his entire life, his entire hope, his entire imagination, over to a practice he simply accepted.  Debie Thomas names this as “psychological and spiritual stagnation.”

Seeing this, Jesus does not shame or lecture or berate or blame (he never does).  Jesus simply and gently asks a vital question that gets to the core of the matter.  New possibilities break open.

In this scripture we can learn from Jesus about being healing presences in the world.  Like Jesus, we can extend nonjudgmental, loving regard to those among us who ail in some way.  Like Jesus, we can pay attention to places and people where attention has been missing.  Like Jesus, we can discern and compassionately offer the curiosity that can spark energy, insight, and movement toward wholeness.

Perhaps, though, we feel more like the man in today’s scripture.  Abiding with others in a place of hurt and pain, wounds and ailments.  Dwelling in a place we know.  Losing hope.  Resigning ourselves.  Waiting for help that seems unlikely to arrive.  Waiting…

…as Christ walks among the places where we dwell.  Regards us as beloved ones.  And so may we, like the man in today’s scripture, be honest about our hurts, our brokenness, our frustrations, our ailments.  And may we be willing to invite the questions we need to hear that will open up our hearts and imaginations to reveal possibilities toward healing and wholeness.   “Getting up” may take some time.  We may need to leave places that no longer fit us.  And as resurrection people we know that new life comes.

~Rev. Ruth Moerdyk

Scripture: John 5: 1-9