By Elizabeth Baumann
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle
A Reading from the Gospel of John 5:1-18
1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 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?” 7 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.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
“Do you want to be healed?” Well, duh, Jesus. Why else would this man be hanging out by the pool? It’s somehow easy to gloss over this detail of the story because the answer seems so obvious. We move on. There’s plenty else going on in today’s lesson.
But is it obvious?
A few years ago I was reading the story, in Acts, of Peter healing the beggar at the temple gate, and I had a strong, perverse reaction: He didn’t ask to be healed! Peter just stripped him of his means of livelihood! He’s been crippled his whole life, he has no other skills, presumably he has no family to care for him or he wouldn’t be begging. Peter doesn’t ask as Jesus does — he just upends this man’s whole life. I thought about how scared I would be, if I were he, not knowing how to reinvent my whole life, how to make a place for myself from scratch. In that moment, I wouldn’t have thanked Peter. Not even a little.
“Do you want to be healed?”
We think it’s an obvious question — clearly rhetorical. But it’s not. Invisibly, we get comfortable with the ways we are broken. We’re used to them, and often we’ve woven our lives and habits around them, the way that a blind person proverbially learns to rely on their hearing, hearing things a sighted person would miss. Surely gifts and opportunities can come with suffering and brokenness. But to be healed is to be violently stripped of many comfortable habits, perhaps even of some of those provisional blessings we’ve gained. Things we’ve taken for granted are suddenly not options. We have to learn to do new things using new muscles that hurt.
“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asks. Well, do we?
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Kagera – The Anglican Church of Tanzania
Christ Church Georgetown, Washington, D.C.