There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’ “They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away since there was a crowd there. After this, Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.
There are a few interesting points of particular interest to me in today’s Gospel. The first is the fact that he had been waiting there for some 38 years. Some ancient sources insert in verse 3 that invalids at Bethesda had to wait for a certain “troubling of the waters.” It was believed that “at certain seasons an angel would pass by,” the first person to step into the pool would be healed of their affliction. Even if we assume that he has not been waiting all day, every day for 38 years, something prompted Jesus to ask, “Do you want to be healed?” This question is an excellent example of how even the inflection of Jesus’ voice could be full of meaning. I could easily imagine Jesus asking in such a way as to ask, “Do you want to be healed, or not?”
Of course, on some level, he wanted to be healed, that’s why he was there at the pool. On another level, sometimes we feel a certain ambivalence about parting with long-held wounds and injuries, especially emotional ones, interpersonal ones, and even spiritual ones. So maybe we need to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to be healed?” Do we prefer the benefits, the sympathy, even the pity of others, plus their words of comfort such as “There, there, it’s not your fault.” I knew a woman many years ago, now long passed, who had a certain mental disability as a child, and as a result, her parents, her siblings, everyone in her life did everything for her. It became for her a way of life, and this relatively minor disability as a child came to rule her life as an adult. We don’t want that for ourselves, still less do we want it for our children.
God puts challenges in our lives as lessons on how to overcome them and grow even stronger. We need to ask ourselves sometimes, “Do I want to be healed, or do I want the sympathy?” Maybe I’m just used to the way I am or prefer the easier way. Let us take courage in the words of St. Paul, who said to the Church in Philippi, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”