One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
Remember those Dear Abby columns that used to run in the newspapers? Someone would always share about the issue they were struggling with, but instead of their name, they would sign it with a descriptor of their condition. Help me! Signed, Frustrated in Fargo.Or, more well known, Sleepless In Seattle.
Has it ever struck you how unfortunate it is to think of someone’s problem as synonymous with their very name?
If you were defined by your issues, what would your name be?
Jesus meets a man whose body is no longer working. He can't walk or get up. He’s lying on his mat, like he does every day. But contrary to other healing stories, this man doesn’t cry out for Jesus. In fact, Jesus notices him first and walks over and asks him a question…. and a bit of rude one at that! He looks at this guy on the ground and says,
Do you want to get well?
What kind of a question is that? The disciples are probably standing there thinking, way to add some salt to the wound, Jesus.
Interestingly, rather than answering the question, the man gives the reasons he's been unable to get well. He never gives a direct response to the simple question of Jesus.
Did he hesitate? Maybe. Why?
And why might we pause at that same question?
It’s hard to talk about, but perhaps sitting in our woundedness, in a sad sort of way, is what we've grown accustomed to. We think, I'll always be this way... and the hopelessness sets in. I'll never be at peace...And the bitterness grows...... I'll always be the wounded one... and it defines us. Because if we're really honest, there's validation in using our pain as an identity marker. Holding onto our pain can shield us from the scary journey of growth. A friend betrayed your trust once, so every time an opportunity comes up to go a little deeper with someone, you keep the old wound fresh and remind yourself that you just can’t trust anyone any more. See what I mean?
We all need to be healed of something. We’re all wounded. We’re the lame dude. And though we know that living life defined by woundedness is not in our best interests, we still construct identities around them.
Dear God….. Signed, the selfish one. The divorced one. The weak one.
There's a big difference between being honest about our hurts and our shortcomings and being defined by them. Acknowledging the wounds of your past is not the same thing as letting them direct your attitude for your future.
American poet Carl Sandberg once wrote: There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.
Which one will win?
So Jesus looks at this guy (and honestly, we really don’t know what’s going on in his head), and he says, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” And the man chooses to rise in response. Do we understand that when he stands, he’s embracing a new identity? After 38 years, he’s no longer “the invalid!”
But the mat- the symbol of this man’s woundedness, doesn’t actually get left behind. He’s told to carry it along. The mat that he had laid on for years, defining his condition, is now transformed into a symbol of his redemption. That’s the beauty of what God can do with our deepest wounds. They can be a part of us that points not only to our pain, but to our redemption. They can become a symbol of hope that reminds you of your new identity, if we invite Jesus to transform us daily.
If your identity has been formed by your limp, or your shame, or your hurt… there is such good news. Those wounds are a part of your story, but they are not what needs to define you. You are a child of God.
Jesus, make me willing.