DO YOU WANT TO BE MADE WELL?
Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take up your mat and walk” (John 5:8)
We need to be careful here. There are plenty of legitimate problems with either no, or extraordinarily complex solutions. In the case of this man by the pool, we have no reason to believe that he has been lying there for thirty-eight years simply because he wants to. There is no indication his case is an example of something “gaming the system” or taking advantage of others and their compassion or guilt. Rather, there is every indication that from him there just might be the fear of what might lie on the other side of healing. Once he awakens to a new world of mobility and new potential, he also confronts the new role of responsible citizen, a capable partner in a social network of obligation and participation. And perhaps it is at this that the Gospel writer is poking fun. This is a playful passage, both in the conversation with Jesus and in the following interaction with the curious, even skeptical religious leaders.
The man was following Jesus’ directions. He took up his mat and walked. But it was the Sabbath. And carrying a mat constituted work. But “the man who made me well said to me, “’Take up your mat and walk.’”
Already we notice a touch of tension along with a bit of humor. Here this poor fellow had been consigned to thirty-eight years of lying by a pool hoping for a miracle. Now that it has occurred there is no celebration, no rejoicing, no happy family reunion – only excuse making. Accused and confused he attempts to free himself from the scrutiny of pious authorities.
Instead of standing for Jesus, he cowers before accusations of impiety. The irony of this passage should not be lost and it comes in two parts.
1. There are times in life when excusing ourselves from responsibility should no longer be allowed. There is the ever-present question of Jesus: “Do you want to be made well?” Will you allow yourself the chance to stand for something, work for something, be a part of something larger than your own self-interest? The paralytic’s condition is the daily life we all face. Are we willing to move beyond our current inadequacies and rise to something more?
2. The something more – the metaphor of paralysis surely stands for more than his physical malady. The Gospel of John addresses significant concerns about the paralysis in the early church, arguments and rifts among believers counter to their callings. Not rising, not walking, the church of John’s day and age, not unlike our own, wrestled with unsettling issues tearing at the fabric of faithfulness and discipleship.
Will the church stand up, take up its mat and walk? Will you? Will I? Such are the questions that continue to resonate in and around this passage. May this week be one of new discoveries, a new awareness of lingering personal, spiritual or social paralysis and a new calling to rise with new incentive, holy ambition and sacred hope.
Quotes for the day:
Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it (Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin).
You may be disappointed if you fail. But you are doomed to fail if you don’t try (Beverly Sills).