What Do You Really Want

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 5:16

When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

John 5:6 rsv

“Do you want to be healed?” On the surface, the question seems foolish, doesn’t it? Here’s a man who has been physically incapacitated for almost four decades. He has spent most of his life as an invalid. Jesus asks him, “Would you like to be well?” Who wouldn’t want to be healthy, strong, active, we wonder? “Jesus, are You mocking this man? Are You insensitive to his life-long deprivation? Why ask a question to which the answer is so painfully obvious?”

A FOOLISH QUESTION?

But is it, really? Strange to say, there is something in all of us that shrinks from wholeness. We don’t always want to be healed, do we? Here’s a mother who has a seemingly interminable series of ailments. As soon as one subsides, another seems to appear. This means that her daughter must fix her meals and her son must take care of her financial affairs. She is too sick to do things for herself. She also receives considerable sympathy. People inquire frequently as to how she’s doing. They say how sorry they are that she faces such difficulties. Her illnesses, with all the limitations they bring upon her, also keep other people attentive to her need. Does she want to be healed? It would be cruel for someone else to say that she doesn’t. But the question is an important one for her to face. Illness, infirmity, especially if we have caring relatives and friends, has a certain pay off. It’s nice to be cared for and fussed over.

In some handicaps, there may be financial advantage. It may be our ticket to a social security check or a generous handout. Do all the deformed and diseased who survive by appealing to the charity of others deeply want to have their infirmities removed? No one can say that but the person himself or herself. But in the ancient world, at least, as someone has commented, “an eastern beggar often loses a good living by being cured of his disease.”

Healing of any kind brings us into a new situation. We’re given new potential, and along with it, new responsibility. Whereas nothing could be expected of us before, other people may now make demands upon us. There is no reason left for our remaining dependent and inactive. That new world of wholeness can sometimes be scary. We aren’t always sure that we want more responsibility, more accountability, are we?

Those who have struggled long with mental illness know what a searching question this really is: “Do you want to healed?” In some ways our psychological ailments can represent flight from painful reality. The unreal world of fantasy, even with all its terrors, can seem more desirable to us than the hard things we may have to cope with in real life. Along with medication and therapy and prayer, we may need also a renewal of will if we are to move toward wholeness again, fresh courage to choose life in the real world.

Think again about this question asked by Jesus. It was during one of the great Jewish festivals. We read about it in John, chapter 5. The Lord had come up to Jerusalem to share in the celebration. He visited the pool by the sheep gate where many blind, lame and paralyzed people were lying. These were the ones He commonly sought out. He stopped by this man who had been infirm for 38 years. He looked on him with the most thoughtful compassion imaginable. He loved the man. He longed to heal him. But He wanted the sick man to think carefully about what he really wanted. Remember, he had not come to Jesus asking for wholeness. The Lord would not impose His grace on anyone. Did the man genuinely crave healing? Let him say so if he did. Let him articulate for himself the desire of his heart.

The invalid, we note, didn’t respond to the question directly. We don’t hear him say, “Oh, yes! If only I could be well again!” But he did indicate his desire. Listen: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” The pool was said to be a place of miraculous healing. Whenever the waters of it were suddenly troubled, the first person to enter the pool was sometimes marvelously restored. This man was saying to Jesus, in effect, “I want to be healed. Can’t You see that I’m doing all I can to be made well? I haven’t given up hope. I’m here in what is said to be a place of healing. But I can’t do it on my own; I need help beyond myself.”

WHAT JESUS IS LOOKING FOR

That was all he needed to say. Jesus had no more questions. He took the man at his word and said, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” The lifelong invalid obeyed, hardly daring to believe what he was doing. He clambered to his feet, picked up his pallet, and walked off.

Apparently, Jesus wants to be sure that we really want what He offers, that we earnestly seek for it. He wants us to express for ourselves what our need is, what we most long for. Have you ever noticed how the Bible emphasizes that? Listen to these words from the Proverbs about wisdom: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:1-5). That sounds like an intense pursuit, doesn’t it? An eager desire that won’t be denied? Jesus was always saying to His followers, “Ask, keep on asking and it will be given you. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and it will be opened to you.” It is important to Him that we prize what He offers, important that we consider carefully what it is we want and then make our desires known.

It’s a question to ask ourselves about our infirmities, our places of bondage, our besetting sins. Do we want to be whole? Do we want to be free? The young Augustine, in the days before his conversion, sometimes prayed, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” Does something in us resonate with that reluctant prayer? Does it seem to us at times that we want to be the Lord’s followers – after we have had our fun? We’d like eventually to get over this vexing problem of ours, but for now life in the fast lane is still pretty exciting for us. We’re not sure we’re willing to say good-by to it just yet. What Jesus says about cutting off the hand, plucking out the eye, sounds too severe for us. We’d like to become well more gradually, with the luxury perhaps of an occasional relapse!

But the Lord won’t let us get away with that. He wants us to come out with an answer. Do we or don’t we want to be healed? And if we really do, then the time for action is now. Right now, leave it all behind – that infirmity, that inner enslavement, that besetting sin – let it go. Get up and get going in a new life. That’s what happened for the man by the pool. Jesus gave him what he really wanted when the man was sure of it himself and willing to venture.

Remember how healing came to Naaman, the proud Syrian general? He had been a much decorated military hero, the toast of Syria. One day he found upon himself the terrifying marks of leprosy. How quickly everything can change! A servant girl captured from Israel told Naaman of a prophet in her land who could make him well from this dreadful disease. Promptly, he went with all his retinue to call on Elisha.

To Naaman’s dismay the prophet did not even come out to meet him. Instead, he sent a messenger saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman was infuriated. This wasn’t what he had expected. He had looked for Elisha to come out, pray, wave his hand and banish the leprosy. Instead, he, Naaman, was to wash himself in a small, muddy river. But his servants prevailed on him at least to give the plan a try, and he did. The miracle happened. When Naaman wanted healing enough to humble himself and obey God’s simple command, he became a new man. “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me” (see Jer. 29:13). Thus says the Lord.

A NEW BEGINNING

In the case of the man healed by the pool, there is a sequel. At first, he didn’t know who it was that had made him well on the Sabbath day. He had been dazed with excitement perhaps. Jesus had withdrawn into the crowd. But the story wasn’t over. “Afterward,” we read, “Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, `See, you are well. Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you’” (John 5:14). The Lord first reminds him of what had happened in his life and of who was responsible. He wants him to know that his healing was no accident, but the gift of a gracious God. He wants him to ponder what it means that he has been made whole.

Then this, “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” What is Jesus implying here? He seems to say that the man’s infirmity was somehow connected to his sin. But doesn’t he expressly deny that later in this same Gospel according to John (ch. 9)? The disciples asked him about a man born blind. “Who sinned,” they asked, “this man or his parents that he was brought into the world in this condition?” (see John 9:2). Jesus said flat out that it was not this man’s sin nor that of his parents but that “the works of God might be manifested” in his life. Jesus makes it clear that there is no necessary connection between a person’s sufferings and his sin.

But that is not to say that there never is such a connection. A career of heavy drinking, for example, can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Sexual promiscuity can lead to venereal disease. Life-long anxieties and cherished hatreds can take their grim toll on our mental and physical health.

We don’t know what this man’s sin was, but in some way his disobedience to God had contributed to the affliction he had suffered. Jesus wanted him to see that connection. Forgiveness and physical healing were always close together for Jesus. Restoration and repentance were never to be separated. To receive the healing touch of God from whatever ills, infirmities and evils we may suffer always calls us to a new style of life. It’s striking that Jesus urged the man no longer to sin, not to keep up the pattern of his former life, lest something worse befall him. Something worse, we wonder, than life as a helpless invalid? Something worse than these long years of enforced inactivity? Yes, to continue in our own evil way, to live unrepentant, apart from fellowship with God, that, along with the future to which it leads, is far worse. Do we believe that?

Jesus was giving this man something better than restored health. He was releasing him from the guilt and power of sin. He was making him a new person within. He was giving him a future far greater than the few years that might remain to him in this world.

Here’s a deeper reason for the question which seemed at first so superficial: “Do you want to be healed?” At the most profound level, the question is: “Do you want to be saved?” Not only from the consequences of sin in this world but from sin itself? Do you want to be a transformed person? Are you ready to leave behind everything in your present situation that grieves God, that damages you and other people? Think about it today for yourself. Do you want the total healing He waits to give you? Does your heart cry out today for everything Jesus died and rose again to bring you? Above all, do you want Him? Will you claim Him as your Savior and your Lord? If you will, His word to you is: You are free. You are forgiven. Now walk in newness of life!

PRAYER: Lord, help us to get in touch with what we really want and then to seek You with our whole hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.