Daily Readings in John, Day Fourteen
October 16, 2017
John 5:1-9a (NRSV)
5 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.
Do you want to be made well?
I read that question a couple of different ways. One way it’s a rhetorical question. Of course, this man wants to be made well, and Jesus is simply opening up a line of conversation, taking a first step toward another radically humanizing, radically powerful encounter. This man has been disempowered for decades – so marginalized by his disability that he has no real friends or help in the world.
Read another way, Jesus is really asking. This man has been disabled for decades and has perhaps spent many of those days in magical thinking, waiting for someone to come along to help, waiting for something to happen when he’s placed into one of these bathing pools outside the temple. Perhaps the marginalization runs so deep that this man lacks agency as well and has become attached to his own life-defining story as a victim.
Jesus asks: Do you want another story? Do you want to live another reality? Do you want to be made well?
Interestingly, the man never answers. But Jesus begins rewriting his story anyway.
In a recent Liturgists podcast, philosopher Pete Rollins asks if we are psychologically addicted to the enemies we create for ourselves. Influenced by the scapegoating theories of Renee Girard, Rollins posits that a focus on enemies allows people and societies to avoid facing our own complicity in the problems within and around us.
He gets there by analogy of a hypochondriac who is addicted to the existence of their own disease.
I’m not saying this man is a hypochondriac, but I am struck by Jesus starting with his question: do you want to be made well?
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the other side of this story and of the undoing of the very real oppression this man lived under, how the broader society can be complicit in life-sucking, victim creating ideologies and behaviors. But today, we’ll go personal.
Is there any story of your own brokenness or weakness or dis-ability have you become attached to? Imagine Jesus extending a hand to you today and saying to you: do you want to be made well?