“Do you wish to get well?” That was the question that caught my attention as I read this story from the New Testament — an account of a desperate man in need of healing. In need of hope more.
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him,
‘Do you wish to get well?’
The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me. Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.’ Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.” (John 5:2-9)
I am 38 years old. I don’t know how old this man was, but he had been ill as long as I’m alive. He’d spent those years day after day waiting for an opportunity for healing — the stirring of the waters — only for someone else to jump ahead of him. Maybe they were more agile, maybe more motivated, maybe they had more help, or maybe they just coveted the power of the stirring for more trivial maladies. Regardless, he’d spent 38 years losing his place in line.
Imagine the disappointment and despair each time. He probably didn’t even pay much attention to the rustle of the waters any longer. What was the use?
Then, a man named Jesus stopped by Bethesda one day. Of all the multitudes of afflicted waiting by the pool, Jesus walked up to this man (not by accident, I’m sure.) Jesus knew that he had spent what probably seemed like a lifetime in this condition. He knew each disappointment, each and every slighted moment. But,what a question!
“Do you wish to get well?”
Why ask? As I read, my first thought was “duh!” Dumb question. Was Jesus just making small talk? Was He looking for a conversation starter? Was he distracted? Did He have some need to be asked, a vain acknowledgement of His power? Was he mocking the man’s past efforts?
No. I know from my Bible that Jesus was not dumb, nor did He lack the ability to cut to the chase. He seemed to always move with purpose and with kindness and forethought. He certainly was not self-centered or vain — the cross is evidence of that. So, maybe my impression of a dumb question was actually the most important question.
Maybe the man had gotten so tired and disappointed that his hope, the possibility of healing, had become dim. Maybe it had almost flickered out. Maybe after all these years, it was a question the man needed to answer. Maybe his lack of hope had become the true barrier to healing. Was the question meant as a reminder to fan the flame of faith again?
The man’s answer revealed the depth of his despair. “Sir I have no man…” There was noone. He was resigned. But, perhaps the soul search that question provided begged an answer so greatly that the man was forced to stare down despair. The waters of his spirit were stirred. He was confronted with a decision of faith, a call to action. It’s time to move.
And, this time there was Someone to help him step into the waters of hope and be healed. “Get up. Pick up your pallet and walk.” He had encountered the only man who would help him — the only many who could. That man was Jesus.