Lenten Devotional: March 15

Psalm 72; Psalm 119:73-96; Jeremiah 3:6-18;
Romans 1:28-2:11
; John 5:1-18

“Do you want to be healed?” John 5:6

The much-quoted passage John 5:1-18 describes the Healing at the Bethesda Pool, where, on the Sabbath, Jesus heals a long-term invalid, after pointedly asking him, “Do you want to be healed?” The man responds with excuses for not having been able to help himself, and Jesus rather brusquely orders him to “get up. Pick up your mat and walk.” (Remember, it is the Sabbath.) And the man does. There is no suggestion of faith entering into the picture. Without conditions, Jesus has offered the man the opportunity to change his life, to make a new beginning.

Sometime later Jesus finds the same man at the temple, and says, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The only explanation for this admonition has to be that the man is now faking a disability and continues to beg. He was given the opportunity to change, but he has not taken advantage of it.

Further, he resents Jesus for what he has done. When accused by the religious authorities of breaking the Sabbath by carrying his mat, he blames Jesus…whom the Jewish leaders begin to persecute. The victim, offered a pathway out of his miseries, remains a victim and even turns on his benefactor. Not all good deeds are rewarded with thanks and gratitude and good outcomes.

What are we to make of all this? I couldn’t help but think of the (mostly) men who station themselves at street corners around town asking for gifts from passing drivers. Like the man at the Bethesda Pool, they are suffering…perhaps from physical or mental or spiritual disabilities, or abusive circumstances, or just bad luck. Jesus did not make a value judgment about the disabled man, nor should we when we see these men and women on the street corners or attending our soup kitchens or sleeping in our Parish Hall during PACEM week. He did not require a testimony of faith or any other prerequisite to offering help. Nor should we. His gift was unconditional, and eventually was not only unrewarded but indeed turned against him. Yet he carried on…all the way to the ultimate sacrifice.

Do you want to be healed? Sadly, the answer is not always yes. But miracles still happen.