I have been reading a passage from the gospels each day for Lent, this year, and for the last several days, have been reading whatever passage is recommended on the Forward Movement website.
Today's passage was one I hadn't read in a while, and reading it today reminded me of something that surprised me. Read on, and then tell me what you think...
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" - John 5:6
Though we don't know this man's story, the idea that he had not been well for a long time reminds me of what it's like to have a chronic illness. I haven't been well for a long time, either.
Jesus heals him, but first He asks him if he wants to be made well.
To me, it seems like a strange question. Who wouldn't rather be well, if they had the choice?
And though I am no Biblical expert, I believe that this is not a straightforward question from Jesus. I think He often says things that don't mean exactly what they say, without context, or an implied deeper meaning.
Maybe He is implying some kind of secondary gain - a benefit the sick person receives because of being sick (for example, sick leave, or attention they wouldn't normally get from their loved ones) - that He thinks this man wouldn't want to lose.
Experts warn against making people responsible for being sick or in pain and suggest that we might use this idea of secondary gain way too much. But does it ever happen? I imagine so.
I am not sure it would influence someone to refuse healing, though. I would say yes in a heartbeat (this is not news to God).
The truth is, I don't think we can know exactly why Jesus asked him that question. But read on and I'll tell you what I think was happening in this encounter.
In any case, he was healed!
What would you say if offered healing? Think about the struggles you have had for a long time. Are you ready and willing to let go of them?
What about the Others Who Were There?
I also noticed that the story suggests that Jesus only healed one person during that time. It's possible that others were healed, but there stories were not used as examples in this passage.
Or, it may be that only he was healed. Why are some people healed and not others?
Though that is another question I don't know the answer to, and I believe we can't know with any certainty, I do believe we can trust God.
Last year, my mother died of cancer (that's a black-and-white picture of her in the picture above).
As a healer, I prayed for her to be healed and tried to help her heal in every way I knew how. I was angry when she died. Crushed.
But ultimately, I was able to let go of my "if onlys" and my re-telling of her story in ways that ended with her still alive. Even though I don't know why it happened.
I have had a chronic illness for 25 years. I would love to be free of it, and I don't know why I haven't yet been healed of it.
But in spite of my regret that it hasn't yet happened, I have decided not to believe that it makes a statement about who or how God is.
If God is good, all the time, then my mother's death and my own autoimmune disorder have to go somewhere else. They can't be answers to, "is God good?" Even if I have no idea where to put them.
I am willing not to know the answer. Even when I am angry or sad or worried.
If you have a chronic illness, or you've lost someone who did not get healed, how have you grappled with it? If Jesus only healed one of the many people who needed healing that day, what do you make of it?
And have you had a conversation with God about your own willingness to be healed?
What, Jesus? Say What, Now? (Bible Quote)
"See you have been made well. Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." - John 5
Before we even get to the idea that any person not part of the trinity is capable of never sinning again, let's think about the implication: maybe he was so sick because of sin. What???
But I have to tell you, I have heard it before. I used to go to a church years ago that seemed to imply all the time that it was our responsibility - now that we were Christians - to become perfect.
And if we were ill, or struggling with money, or other issues, there must be sin in our lives.
For a while, that was a perfect fit for me. I already felt embarrassed about being sick. Sometimes, ashamed, for no reasons that I could identify. Did it embarrass my mother and I learned it from her?
I don't know, but the idea that my illness was somehow my fault found a perfect match in this church's ideology.
I eventually left that church and I no longer believe that illness is a physical manifestation of sin. If it were, then why isn't there a one-to-one correspondence happening all around the world?
And why weren't people sick one day, then forgiven and thus, healed, the next? No moments without sin? Okay, but that could describe lots of people, I am sure. Why are some of them completely healthy?
So it doesn't work as a philosophy or belief. Which makes me wonder why Jesus said it.
Here's what I suspect: I believe that when He had that conversation with the man He healed, it was personal to his situation. If He didn't somehow know him, in advance, He knew of him, or had heard about his situation.
And I think He expected him to know exactly what He meant.
Let me give you an example from my own life. If God healed me, I think He would say something like, "don't forget what you've learned about rest, and pushing yourself so hard in the pursuit of perfection. I know you may go a little wild for a bit, doing all the things you haven't been able to do. But when you settle down, remember."
And I would know exactly what He meant, because I have been hearing similar messages and learning that lesson for decades. Maybe I should say not learning and then, finally, beginning to learn, but you get the idea.
Someone else who heard it, would not be meant to apply that to herself and her own struggle with chronic illness, because He'd have something entirely different to say to her.
But even if I am wrong about that, and there is some other explanation I don't know yet, I do not think that He was trying to teach us that when we're sick, it is because we have sinned. I am convinced that's not it, even if I don't know yet, what is.
And as I mentioned above, I am willing not to know yet.
What about you? Have you heard the idea that illness is our fault? That there must be sin in our lives if we are sick?
What do you think about that idea? If you disagree, how do you explain what Jesus said?
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Thanks for reading! See you next time.