Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:2-9
One of the things I regret about my adolescence is that I never got to pull a fast one on my parents and do a Ferris Bueller's Day Off ditch day from school. Being a nurse, my mom knew all the tricks to fake being sick. She's the sole reason I had perfect attendance in high school. For the most part, I've been reasonably healthy as an adult and don't fall ill very often. But, when I get bit by the flu bug, a nasty cold or an annoying cough, I'm down for the count and morph into a big baby.
A few weeks ago, I was a bit under the weather so Jenn, my wife, sent me directly to bed to rest up. Thanks to the drugs I was a little loopy, but even in the midst of the daze I realized something: being sick has its advantages. I got to be lazy and do nothing, and no one batted an eye. Meals were brought to me. I watched endless hours of television of my choosing. I didn't have to worry about work. My girls seemingly got along better and didn't bicker because "dad was sick and we didn't want to upset him."
When I woke up the next morning and had no aches and pains, I faced a dilemma: do I jump back into my normal routine or pretend to be unwell? This is where, as a devotional writer, you'd expect me to say I was a man of integrity and got of bed. I did not. I took another sick day. Can you blame me? There are perks to being unwell, both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. People give us attention. Our sickness validates our actions and attitudes. Personal responsibility goes out the window because we can't help ourselves. There's no need for accountability, and we have a built-in excuse for everything we do ("that's just who I am").
It seems odd that when Jesus encounters a disabled man sitting by a pool that His first question is "Do you want to get WELL?" Most of us who read this and are like, "HELLO? The guy has been this way for over thirty years...of course, he wants things to change!" Jesus never uses His words flippantly. They always have a purpose, and that is to reveal the deeper issues taking place inside a person's heart.
He asks us the same question as the man by the pool: Do YOU want to be WELL? Instead of responding to this seemingly simple question with a yes or no answer, we give Jesus a story instead. "Here's the reason I'm in this condition." "My parents did _______." "I wouldn't be like this, if _____." "It's not my fault." "I've tried hard to fix things."The stories are wide and varied.
Jesus knew a vital principle: just because one is sick doesn't mean they want to be well. The longer we sit by the pool, the more discouraged we become and the quicker the excuses come. We see ourselves as a victim of our circumstances. We surround ourselves with more beach chairs filled with people who don't mind or bring up our sickness. We learn to tolerate, compensate for, and hide our struggles. The longer we go without addressing the issue, the more we believe that we are destined to live by the pool forever.
It's easy to lie down. It hurts to get up. But, that's what Jesus calls us to do - to get up, pick up our mat, and walk. Unlike in other miracles recorded in the Gospels, Jesus didn't declare the man healed until after he was on his feet. With his wobbly legs and fragile body, the man had to exhibit faith before he knew with certainty the healing was true. When we change our posture, we change our perspective on the struggles we face.
The man might have spent years trying to find healing on his own. Yet, it only took a moment and an encounter with Jesus to experience it. We can't spend our days living on the mat. Whatever our struggles are, we have to bring them to the ONE who can heal us. Our decision to get up doesn't just affect us. It influences and impacts those that come after us. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed of your struggle. God can use anything for His glory if we're willing to trust Him. Our greatest misery has the power to become our greatest ministry.
If Jesus asked you “do you want to get well?”, how would you respond? What makes you answer in the way that you do?
When it comes to your struggles, what would it look like for you to “pick up your mat and walk”? How can you embrace the pain of recovery?
God, for far too long, I've sat on my mat. It hurts but in a weird way it's comforting. I often can't see myself without the mat and the struggles associated with it. Help me to want to be well. May I display the courage to bring my struggles to the feet of the cross and trust that You can heal me while using them to make Your faithfulness known. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.