I was reading John 5, and there it was, a flashlight moment. You know those times when you’re reading and certain words jump out on you as if you’d never seen them before? You’re going along, reading something you’ve read probably a hundred times, and suddenly an invisible flashlight beams onto the familiar words, lighting them up with fresh meaning. Flashlight moment.
John 5 contains the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Jesus is in Jerusalem, and He singles this man out for reasons known only to Him and the Father. This was not unusual in itself; Jesus often picked people out of a crowd. In this particular story, the paralyzed man lives by a special pool. There was a multitude of suffering people at the pool because, as the text tells us, every so often “an angel went down and stirred the water”, and the first person into the pool would be healed. Ok, so that particular detail is a bit… unusual.
Our guy has lived near this pool for a long time, hoping for someone to help him into the water. For years he’d watched person after person get healing. But healing had always eluded him, and he’s helpless to change his situation. Enter Jesus.
Then (and here’s my flashlight moment) Jesus asks a surprising question. He says to the man, “Do you want to be made well?”
Wait, what?! Why would Jesus ask him such a thing?
There had to be more than meets the eye here. Jesus often asked questions of the people He encountered as a way of getting them to see their own hearts. Here’s the thing: our paralyzed friend may not have had a choice in his physical condition, but all of a sudden he did have a choice for his healing. A choice that could change his life.
And we don’t like change.
I believe what Jesus is saying with His question is, “Are you ready for change? Are you willing to live a different life?” I believe He asks the same questions of us anytime He gets ready to work in our lives. Because He knows that good change can still be hard change, he wants to see if we’re willing for the changes, and the healing, He wants to give us.
I’m like the man waiting by the pool. I sit in my doubts, fears and discouragements, unable to immerse myself into my own healing from these things. The healing’s so close I can taste the salt air of the water. I watch person after person step in and come out clean, while I sit, wrestling with the same old things that I cannot shake off no matter how hard I try. But when Jesus shows up and the power of the Holy Spirit is extended to me like salve on a stick, how do I respond?
While we can’t imagine anyone choosing to remain paralyzed, we often choose to stay in our mess, in our pain, in our self-imposed paralysis because sometimes it’s too much to imagine a different life than the one we have. If our friend were to accept Jesus’ offer, he would have had to pick up his mat, leave the familiar pool, and go into the big city. He would have had to find a new place to live. He would have had to get a job. And he would have had to forge a new identity other than “the paralyzed guy”. He knew what being paralyzed felt like and what was required of him; doing something different might be a tall order.
We humans have a funny way of being able to put up with bondage as long as it’s not killing us. Trading the familiar pain for the unknowns of freedom can feel like too much; as they say, better to put up with the enemy you know that the enemy you don’t.
Walking in the freedom that Jesus offers can mean we might have to walk in new ways of thinking. We might have to ditch old habits, or unhealthy people, or whatever is keeping us held down. We might have to get a little more responsible or stop blaming our condition for the way we are. We might have to forge a new identity as Jesus’ child instead of whatever label our condition was giving us.
Is it worth it to us to cooperate with Jesus?
Turns out, it was worth it to our friend, and Jesus healed him on the spot. As commentator Matthew Henry puts it, “he who couldn’t turn himself in bed, the next minute could carry his bed.” If we take Jesus up on His offer to turn our lives inside out for the sake of our freedom, are we ready for what will follow? Are we ready to breathe the air of freedom? Are we ready to go deeper with Him into the new paths He has for us? Because those who are known by Jesus, and know Him in return, belong to Him.
The thing is, there’s so much waiting for us when we’re willing to be healed.