What do you want?
The story of Jesus healing the man at Bethesda (John 5) intrigues me on several levels.
The obvious is the remarkable healing. The man’s affliction had severely impacted him for 38 years. No doubt all hope had been long lost. Things weren’t going to get better. He just as well accept his fate and move on with life the best he could.
Jesus apparently didn’t get that memo. He isn’t limited by what conventional wisdom says is a hopeless cause. Jesus has no problem healing this man.
I’m also intrigued by the man’s difficulty in giving a straight-up answer.
When Jesus asks him if he’d like to be well (v. 6), the man launches into a lengthy explanation of why he hasn’t been able to get into the pool (read vv. 2-4, for the background on the significance of the pool). It was a simple, yes-no question. But the man never gives a clear answer.
Later some Jewish leaders corner the man on why he was carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. Such a simple task violated their strict interpretation of Sabbath laws.
The man again ducks and dodges. Rather than owning his own actions, he shifts responsibility (another way to say blame) to the “man who made me well” (v. 11).
The leaders want to know who that healer could be. Curiously the man doesn’t know the healer’s name. I don’t pretend to know the full contextual nuances here, but I can’t imagine there being too many options other than Jesus.
Regardless, what strikes me is the man’s difficulty in finding his voice and speaking what is true in his life. Perhaps he wasn’t in touch with his own soul.
This particularly seems to be the case in Jesus’ initial question. Jesus straightforwardly asks him, “Do you wish to get well?” This is a no-brainer. A slam-dunk.
The man has been lame for 38 years, for goodness sake. Why would Jesus even need to ask such a question?
Yet the man doesn’t answer. He can’t say what he wants.
I can relate. Sometimes the most difficult question to answer is when I’m asked what I want.
Shame, insecurity, distorted spirituality, and the fear of becoming responsible for my desires intertwine to make seemingly obvious, straight-forward question complex and difficult.
I’ve gotten better at owning and stating my wants, but I’m not there yet.
Finally, I’m intrigued at Jesus’ use of words in his dialogue with the man.
Specifically, I find it significant that Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” and not, “Do you want to walk?”
Again, I’m not a contextual or linguistic scholar here. So I may be barking up the wrong tree. But Jesus’ choice of words speaks to me of different levels of desire and need.
Level one is walking. At the risk of minimizing what walking means to someone who hasn’t walked for 38 years (probably this man’s entire life), walking can represent a superficial level of well-being.
Competency in walking can mask underlying incompetence. Many who walk are crippled emotionally and spiritually.
Walking accomplishes a lot of things, but it doesn’t meet the real needs of the soul. It can, in fact, numb us from feeling the pain of our emptiness and meaninglessness.
Level two is being well. This speaks of a deeper, more holistic view of healing. It reaches into the core of our being to create meaning and purpose. It deals with significance, security, mission and value.
One can be well in this sense and still not walk. It’s not conditioned on walking.
I recognize that many times when Jesus (or anyone else) asks me what I want, I tend to answer in level one terms. I want a good job, a decent salary, good health, a fulfilling marriage and cooperative kids.
I’d rather walk than be well.
But Jesus insists on making me well.
When level two is in place, level one tends to follow. Without a solid level two, level one won’t ever satisfy.
What do I want?