Most of us have heard that the definition of insanity is: Doing the same thing over and over and over again while expecting different results. It seems as if this could be a quote that defines what had been taking place in this man’s life as he found himself at the pool of Bethesda…found near the sheep gate, waiting to go into the waters…and for a miracle to take place.
I want you to know that the Sheep Gate still stands today. There are porches, that are set at various levels around the pool, and during Jesus’ time it was the common practice of people as our scripture states (who were sick, blind, lame, paralyzed) to gather… waiting to be taken into the waters, hoping for a healing miracle. John writes… when Jesus got to Jerusalem he entered the city by the Sheep Gate and went to the pool of Bethesda nearby. The reason it was called the Sheep Gate is because shepherds would drive their sheep into Jerusalem through this gate and on over to the Pool of Bethesda to the right, where they would be washed…in order to made pure before being taking to the temple for sacrifice.
The pool of Bethesda was separated by a dividing wall in the middle, creating two bodies of water. The sheep were washed at one end of the pool, and people bathed at the other end.
It’s important to note that In Jesus’ day the Jewish calendar contained three high and holy days – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. If you were a devout Jew living within a few miles of Jerusalem, you were expected to attend all the festivals. If you lived away from Jerusalem, you were expected to attend at least one each year. Jesus was a devout Jew, and, like other devout Jews, in this particular account we find that Jesus was in Jerusalem for one of the festivals.
One could imagine that because it was a Jewish festival…that the crowds found at the gate was greater than most other days…and that there was even a greater crowd of people — paralyzed, blind, lame, sick — all waiting to be taken into the water. Now Jesus doesn’t go around healing everyone…rather it seems as if Jesus hones in on this one man.
A man I had always thought was laying at the pool at Bethesda every day for 38 years and yes that could be the case… But our scripture does not say that. What it does say is that he had been ill or sick for 38 years.
We do not know why. But it seems obvious that he is weak, feeble, he’s unable to stand, he lacks the strength or ability to go from his mat…make his own way down the many flights of steps in order to be first in line or at the very least closer to the water so that he might get in the water or be assisted to get in the water…when the waters are stirred. There is a helplessness about this man. And of all the people that are there…Jesus picks him out of the crowd. Our scripture says… “When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time…he asked him”…rather than just offering healing Jesus poses a question.
Dr. Philip McLarty writes: “As all good teachers know, students learn as much by the questions we ask as by the information we part.” Jesus question is very poignant… “Do you want to get well…do you really want to be made well?”
It seems like a really strange question to ask of a man who had been sick for 38 years! “Do you want to be healed?” You’ve been sick and probably coming here for 38 years…waiting for a miracle…but I’m asking do you really want to be made well…because then maybe your going about it the wrong way…and unless something changes it’s not going to happen. One can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.
There was a man by the name of Kermit Meier who spent the better part of 40 years of his life where he said that his closest friend was a bottle. Kermit in real ways during those years had become a hermit and his own words was that he was curmudgeon… and though he said he was wanting someone or something to help him, when people offered to get him into treatment he turned them down…saying I don’t need that…I don’t need to change anything…I just need to stop drinking and I can do that on my own.
He shared that his crossroad moment came while sitting on an Artesian Well Digging Derek…with a bottle in his hand…complaining to God how helpless and hopeless he felt…God asked him… “Kermit do you want to be made well?” And his comment was yes Lord I do… “Then you need to do something different…you need to give up your old way of life.”
What God was saying to Kermit is same that God is saying to all of us who feel as if life…or the situations in life has in some way left us paralyzed, feeling a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, trouble… that in order to move into the life that God wants us to have…then we need to stop making excuses…that’s what it seems the sick man was ready to do…when he said, “I have no one to take me or others get ahead of me…I feel hopeless”. It would be like a Dr asking us today, “Do you want to be made well…” and our response being something to the effect of “Is my insurance going to cover it…”
Truth is we may know people today who really don’t want to have their lives to change, to be made well and to experience God’s miracles. And If we are like Linus who holds desperately on to his blanket, and are determined to hold on to what you have, the way your life currently is even if things are not going the way you want…then you may well be closing the door to the possibilities God wants you to experience.
So, here’s the question Jesus is asking us today: “Do you want to be made well?” It’s a question only you can answer. The way to start answering is by asking ourselves, what do I need to be healed of?
What’s standing in my way in life? What sort of things do I need to change about my life in order to be whole? Are there things I need to let go of? Are there things that are preventing me from living fully into all that God wants for my life?
For example, are you holding on to anger, nursing some injustice or hurt from years back? Are you holding on to grief, looking back to something or someone you once held dear? Maybe you’re holding on to a destructive habit, wanting to be healthy and whole, but not willing to let go.
Well, the gospel lesson doesn’t end with just the question…it ends on a positive note. Jesus tells the man, “Arise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately, the man was made well, and took up his mat and walked. (6-9)
And that’s the Good News for us: Jesus came into the world…to meet us right where we are at so that…as John 10:10 states, “that we may have life and have it abundantly.” I am changing our closing hymn this morning as it’s words assure us there is a healing balm…found in Jesus that , “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”
The question is, do you want to be made well? In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.