After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 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?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
I can’t help but hear incredulity in Jesus’ voice when he says “do you want to be made well?” The response of the man is all about excuses which rather suggests, to me at least, that Jesus had worked out the situation as soon as he saw it. The healing pool was, I imagine, rather like the pool in Lourdes where the sick go in the hope that God will heal them. Yet the man had his excuses about why he didn’t try to do what was required. This may sound harsh but how often do we make our excuses only to hear the Lord ask us “do you want to be made well?”
In our local congregations, and in our denominational life together, we’re very good at making excuses to explain why we don’t do what we should do. We distract ourselves with the urgent so as to ignore the important. We do the same things again and again expecting a different result.
The man in the story was almost beyond help – after all he’d been ill for 38 years and hadn’t availed himself of the resources available. Yet Jesus’ piercing question broke through his excuses and, almost with divine exasperation, he is healed.
We need to hear the, possibly exasperated, voice of Jesus asking us if we wish to be made well and then respond to his command “stand up, take up your mat and walk.” That will mean: being sure of our mission; confident in proclaiming our beliefs; faithful in worship and celebration of the Sacraments; offering loving service to our communities; and welcoming all in Jesus’ name.
Do we want to be made well?
Lord Jesus, you heal those who reach out to you and respond to your voice so that they may be signs of your life in our world. Heal our church as we reach out to you, enable us to respond to your piercing voice, that we may not perish but have abundant life. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister in the Glasgow Southside Cluster of URCs.