“Do We (Really) Want Healing?”
“Do You (Really) Want Healing?”
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
May 22, 2022
A number of years ago, I scheduled a visit with a dietician. It was after a few years of eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted – and each day ended with a bowl of ice cream. That worked for a season, but as you may have heard – the metabolism slows as you go along. And I was noticing this in a host of ways – not just weight but a number of health things were coming onto the radar. And then I looked around at my immediate family – aunts, uncles, mom, grandparents…all with diabetes.
So, I am sitting there going through my eating habits with this dietician, and she looks up, takes a breath, and says, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to making the necessary food changes?” And I confess the most immediate thing that came to mind is, “I have chosen to put myself in this health food office and right before the expert herself. I’m here. I’m paying for this. What do you mean, ‘how committed am I?!’”
“Do you want to be made well?” What a strange question Jesus asks this man who has been ill for 38 years and who has situated himself right beside healing waters.
A little background:
These pools at Bethsaida where Jesus has come – it was said that an angel would come from time to time to stir the waters, and they would bubble with healing powers. And the first one into the bubbling waters would be healed.
Inevitably, then, the blind, the lame, the ill – they were at these pools day in and day out, like this man who was ill for 38 years. And in Jesus ’time, to have a physical ailment was also to be a social outcast. It was assumed you or your family likely had sinned or done something wrong to find disfavor with God or the gods, and so you not only dealt with your ailment but also shame in the fact that you were a social pariah.
And so yes, getting to where the healing waters were said to stir was a big deal. And surely, we are not so different today.
- We show up to the doctor’s office or the physical therapist or the counselor or fabled places where the water heals.
- We show up for conferences where our organizations, our church, our lives might be transformed
- We watch inspirational talks online or listen to certain podcasts.
- Maybe we attend a recovery group, church, or even a political rally.
Anywhere, really, that can address any number of maladies that we carry… We will show up if rumor has it, the waters might heal. And yet showing up does not guarantee we actually want the healing.
“How committed are you?”
And instead of replying right away with the obvious answer, I thought about it, and then said, “6 out of 10. So, a little above average.” I was trying to be honest that I was worried. I was worried about how entrenched my habits might be. I was worried that even though I had plenty of good reasons to change…I had been going in one direction for so long that maybe…maybe some part of me actually just preferred the familiarity I knew.
“Do you want to be made well?” The ill man answers Jesus, “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.” He doesn’t answer Jesus’ question directly but instead gives reasons for why it just won’t work or doesn’t ever work. There’s something of a resigned cynicism there…and also, probably some fear. That word “well” in the Greek is the word hygies where we get our word ‘hygiene.’ It refers to physical health but is also broader than that. It implies a sense of being whole, being right with the world.
“Do you want to be healed in such a way that not only is your physical ailment healed but then your social dynamics changed?” “Do you want to be healed such that way you interact in the world, the people you see and know you, the expectations of what you can and would do with an able body – it all changes? Do you want to be healed unto a newness after 38 years of having things be one way? Do you want to be healed?”
And maybe the thing is this:
The man loves lying on his mat and watching the waters get stirred right over there, maybe even appreciates being close to the idea of healing… but maybe he’s terrified of those stirred waters actually pouring over him and stirring then all the accompanying, significant, life-altering changes that come in the road of healing.
Is it possible we ever hope for healing – “Yes, I want healing, we want healing, the church needs healing, the country needs healing, this world needs healing…” but when it comes right down to it, we’ve been laying on certain mats for so long that it’s just
more familiar to stick with the ailment we do know rather than risk the healing we don’t know?
- Perhaps some of us have made our mats on a broken relationship – yes, we want healing but… its gone long enough in this way that oddly we prefer the known dysfunction to the unknown on the path that risks honesty, forgiveness….
- Perhaps some of us have made our mats on cynicism – yes, we would love not to be this way, but there are just too many reasons why trying something again or trying something different, it just won’t work. Not in our lives. Not in the city. Not in the schools. Not in the country. Even when it seems we catch a break, someone else runs in front of us. And so maybe we prefer the known cynicism that keeps us safe from failing and eats away at our soul to the unknown of risking hope.
- Perhaps some of us have made our mats on doing church the way we’ve known it for years or decades – yes, we want healing and transformation so that we might better love one another with vulnerability and openness and also better engage and serve this emerging generation that has little to do with the church on the whole, and engage a wider and deeper diversity of neighbors…but maybe we prefer laying on known mats than risking every sacred routine before those unpredictable waters.
- Perhaps some of us made our beds in guilt and shame. We want healing and have shown up to church and counseling and the like but…we know our past, we know what we have done or has been done to us, and maybe by now we’ve gotten so used to this shame or guilt that they are central to how we navigate this world and how we protect our heart and how we hold back.
We prefer the known of shame to the unknown or risking the fount of grace.
What are the familiar mats on which we have made our beds? Is it possible we draw near this morning to the Living Water himself, but we are not so sure we would actually want our lives bathed in something that could change so much? Is it ever possible we just get used to the ailment, the prison, the shame, the fear, the brokenness?
The dietician’s final directive to me in that first meeting about changing my eating habits was this: “go home today, and clear your pantry and fridge of the stuff that is doing your body no good.”
“Can’t I just keep them there,” I offered, “but avoid them? It just feels really…wasteful.” “Look, it goes to waste or it goes to the waist. Plus, doing that physical activity will help you feel the change you are walking toward. Help you mark the change.”
Jesus said to the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Jesus, here, does not simply say, “You are healed,” but rather… “Stand up, take your mat, and walk.”
Take a very real, tangible step in the direction of healing…one where you have to pick up the mat you got used to laying on.
- One where you throw away the pantry junk you relied on.
- One where you cut off the hours of cable news or social media that was feeding far more fear or anxiety than anything nutritious.
- One where you text the person or spouse or family member or friend with whom there has been on-going strife and ask to have a heart to heart so that you make clear you are not falling back on the familiar mat of how things have been for some time…
“Stand up, take the mat you have been so used to laying upon, and walk…”
- Where does Jesus direct his voice in our lives?
- Where does Jesus call forth a new movement away from the familiar illness and toward the unfamiliar healing?
- Where is his voice raising us up from mats we’ve known far too long?
It was early November when I first met with that dietician. Which meant Thanksgiving gatherings and Christmas gatherings with all their sugars and hidden calories and fats of every kind were just around the corner…talk about terrible timing for this call to pick up the mat and walk in a new direction.
The last line of our passage today: “The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.” Sabbath is a day of rest, not a day for work – like that of healing a person. The religious leaders, as we read further in this story, they are incensed. It is the wrong time for healing.. It’s the Sabbath We are not going to unpack the remainder of this story for now, but suffice it to say, the passage makes clear…
There is a sense in which it is always a bad time for God’s healing.
- It’s bad for us because we have all these excuses and reasons that we can’t leave our mat and get into those healing waters.
- It’s bad for others because look it’s the Sabbath or it’s this time of year, the current time in our life, the current things going on in the job or church or family. It’s not the right time.
There is nothing convenient or easy about the healing gift of Jesus Christ and his waters poured over us. His gift cares not how long we’ve familiarized ourselves with the illness of our mat or how troubling the timing of his grace is for the unhealthy rhythms of our lives. His aim is not our comfort, but our healing. Our wholeness in all facets of life. And thanks be to God that Jesus does not care whether we want it or we are ready for it or we deserve it or we like the timing.
As with this man who showed very little promise, Jesus’ word of healing pours forth to all of us who make our beds upon sacred mats – and in one utterance comes the demand and gift of grace: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
What mat do you find yourself picking up today? Can we trust that on this unknown road of healing, the God who is raising us will also be faithful to carry us?