29 April 2013

Encountering Jesus - When Jesus asks me, what is my response?

Do you, like me, stand stupefied by that liberty and the fact that God still asks and respects the decisions, right or wrong... obedient or sinful... good and bad... 
that we make?

Even a week later, as I've continued to study and meditate on this passage of Scripture, the sentiment expressed above still almost overwhelms. Jesus went to this man, a man who was clearly not whole, a man who clearly wanted to be made whole and was willing to go to desperate... even ridiculous from our perspective today... lengths in seeking that healing...

Jesus asked the man if he wanted wholeness. Do you ever wonder what Jesus would have done if the man had said that he did not? If the man had said he was quite content with his life as is and really rather preferred not to have anyone interfere? It could be a rhetorical question... but I don't think so. One thing I do know - John writes near the end of his account that the he had created this record of the things Jesus did and the signs He performed for a very specific reason: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

I've been spending time this past week, thinking about that question, wondering about Jesus' motivation for asking it, meditating on what it might have meant, imagining what I might have done had He stood before me and made the same inquiry...

...and realizing that He does, day after day after day...

He stands before me, asking me if I want to be made whole.

After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. 
And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case , he saith unto him, "Wouldest thou be made whole?" 
The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me." 
Jesus saith unto him, "Arise, take up thy bed, and walk."
And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked. 
Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews said unto him that was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed."
But he answered them, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk." 
They asked him, "Who is the man that said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?" 
But he that was healed knew not who it was; for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in the place. 
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee." 
The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him whole. (John 5.1-15, ASV)

Commentators give various reasons as to why Jesus chose this time, this man, this question to ask. Here is a smattering of the ideas I've seen as I've read through them:
  • Jesus knew the man's need and his desires, supernaturally;
  • Jesus asked the question to renew hope and an expectation of something different that what the man had known for so long;
  • Jesus hoped to attract the attention of others with His question; and
  • "Jesus only healed as men consented to his healing."
I think we can make an educated guess as to Jesus' reasons - why that time, that man, that question - but a certain response is an impossibility, and I think diminishes the impact and applicability of this story.

I find it compelling, touching, even amazing - the honorable deference Jesus offers to this man. As we find out more of the man's story, it is highly likely that others did not honor him and did not care for him. He essentially says that he has no one... Jesus honors him by asking what he wants instead of assuming. Obviously, it is clear that the best thing for the man is to be healed and at some point in his life, he recognized this or he would not be by these waters, waiting for yet another opportunity. But Jesus didn't storm His way in, hollering "Get ready to be helped! I'm coming to save you!" 

What a contrast between the Lord and the traditional superhero. 

What a contrast between Jesus and the stereotypical evangelical cross-cultural worker - missionary, diplomatic, or developmental.

Jesus asks the man if he wants to be made well. The other obvious choice is to remain lame as he is. That's a pretty weighty question, when I think about it. Then I remember all the times I've mused that the uncomfortable but known present is a better alternative to the perhaps less painful and frustrating but totally unknown, unexpected future. It isn't easy to imagine choosing a known unwholeness rather than risking the possibilities of an unknown wholeness. 

Jesus asks a simple yes or no question. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, though, the man does not answer Jesus' question. Instead he says,  "Sir, I have no one..." It breaks my heart, if I take the time to dwell on that.

I wonder how many times, how many people... feel as though they have no one... no one cares, no hope, no potential for change in their circumstances... Since God created man for relationship, that is a terrible place to be. This human being had been lame for 38 years and by his own testimony, he saw no hope of a change, ever... for there was no one to help him, no one to carry him. God made us to need Him and to need others. We need others and want to depend on them, but the only one who can ever and always be there, who is 100% dependable, is the Savior. All others will as some point, in some way, betray us or let us down. While it seems so sad that this fellow felt so alone, I also think that this question and the man's realization as recounted in his response was a wonderful gift of God. Recognizing my alone-ness and the emptiness of the traditions, practices and surrounding culture frees me to see the One who can heal, can liberate and can end my loneliness, if I will allow Him.

Not only does this man seem to be alone, it appears he might also be the one isolating himself, trapped in a victim's mentality. His responds pitifully - so I have to ask:  Is he really pitiful or does he use this martyr's role to achieve some end? He promptly lists reasons, rationalizations and explanations for why he sees no end to his current predicament. Despondent and despairing - those are the two characteristics that distinguish this man from so many others that Jesus chose to heal. Compare this to the Capernaum nobleman. His faith and immediate obedience clearly stand out. Not this man. He didn't see Jesus... Jesus found him. When asked if he wanted to be made whole, he whined... His faith is so feeble.

Jesus doesn't berate the man for this lack of faith. He looks deeper inside instead. Instead, He simply asks the man to obey. Jesus says, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." When I taught this as a Bible study at church, I asked the women to imagine themselves as this man. For a moment, the ladies (giggling) tried to do just that. Thirty-eight long years he had laid lame, unable to walk...

In his position, I think it highly likely that my response would have been more along the lines of... "But sir, you don't understand. These legs haven't supported the weight of anything for 38 years..." Yet I don't read of any hesitation or questions on the part of this man. He simply obeyed, and as he is enjoying his new ability, Jesus melts away into the crowd and the man walks right into a confrontation with the Pharisees.

How does Jesus want to make you more whole today? What question is He asking you and how are you responding? 

Does your response match up with the deepest cries of your heart? Why or why not?

-edited post from the archives:
original post

this week's gratitude list

(#'s 3778 - 3802)

great last night for the girls' horseback riding lessons

chocolate thank you gifts

and there's still a way for all three girls to go and show their grandparents what they've learned once Gammie and Gampy get here in June

hard hugs from a sad girl

little munchkins trying to cheer up one of their big sisters

listening to Rebekah sing her little sisters to sleep (in at least three different languages)

someone will take our puppies... even though they aren't puppies anymore. We've found a home for Butterscotch and Beethoven and we are thanking Jesus! 
(now just three cats to go)...

digging in the mud and sand with my littlest guy

biggest guy wandering into my office at school sometimes to beg a Coke, sometimes to get me to do something for him school related... but sometimes just to say "Hi!"(at least I think that's the case)

finally getting some paperwork checked off the to do list... 
now to keep plugging away at the rest

girls creating costumes for the medieval fair

listening to first, second and third graders who really look up to my Anna-girl

yummy, scrummy for scratch tomato soup

company for the weekend

the first day of IGCSE  testing behind them

the end in sight of a challenging honors Arthurian/medieval lit course

plans in place to make blueberry cake donuts and hoping they turn out

quiet sighs and the occasional snore as I listen to my entire family sleeping in one room

jr high girl movie parties, complete with homemade brownies and ice cream

snowflakes (the paper kind) during the middle of hot season

the 2nd season... and looking forward to watching another mentalist download

icy cold water

exercise videos... now to get the gumption to do them despite the heat

unexpected guests :-)

sr high boys hanging out to study together

doughnut dough in the fridge... waiting for the morning

laughing, chattering kids and friends sprawling all over this house

Ten most recent posts in this series: 

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