May 2, 2016: “Do We Want to Get Well?”

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

May 2, 2016

John 5:1-18

 

A Scotchman goes into a bar with a broken arm.  Standing at one end, laying his arm in a cast up on the bar, he calls for a shot of Glen Livet to ease his pain.  As the bartender reaches for the bottle, the Scotchman looks down at the other end and sees someone familiar.  “Is that Jesus down there?” he asks the bartender.  “Yep, that’s Jesus,” the bartender confirms.  “Give him a shot, too!”

 

The next man to come in is French.  He’s on crutches, nursing a broken leg.  He asks for a glass of burgundy to help with his pain.  The bartender pours his glass as the Frenchman looks around the bar and sees someone who looks familiar.  “Is that Jesus down at the other end,” he asks?  Yep, that’s Jesus.” “Give him a glass on me,” the Frenchman orders.

 

A little bit later, Billy Bob limps in.  “Give me a tall cool one,” he orders, “to help with my back.”  As the bartender pours him a draft, Billy Bob hooks his thumbs into his suspenders and cases the joint out.  Seeing someone familiar, he calls the bartender over and says, “Say, is that God’s boy down there?”  “Yep, that’s Jesus.”  “Well, give him a cool one on me, okay?”

 

A little bit later, Jesus gets up and heads toward the door.  Pausing as he comes to the Scotchman, he places his hands on his shoulders and thanks him for his kindness and gives him a blessing.  His arm is healed.  Next, he moves over to the Frenchman and does the same.  His leg is better.  As he steps toward the end of the bar, Billy Bob backs up against the bar and shouts, “Don’t you touch me Jesus; I’m drawing disability.”

 

Now before getting upset with me about the joke with Jesus in a bar, remember the type of places that Jesus went and the people with whom he hung out.   Even though this story is made-up, considering the stories we have in the gospel, it’s not farfetched.  Jesus, it appears, enjoyed being around people, even those who were a bit shady and especially those who were in need.  And I wonder if Billy Bob isn’t a direct descendant of the man by the pool in the fifth chapter of John’s gospel.  Does the guy in our gospel reading really want to get well?  And what about us?  Do we want to be made well?

There is a lot in this text I’m about to read.  I’m planning to use it today and next Sunday.  Today, we’ll concentrate on the man who was healed.  Next Sunday, we’ll look at the reaction to this healing.   Read John 5:1-18.

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The universal lament of the human race starts out with a variation of the phrase, “If only I had…”

 

If only I’d caught that fly ball…

If only I’d made that lay-up…

If only I could have gone to a different college…

If only I’d have studied harder…

If only I could have gotten that job…

If only I’d married so and so…

If only I’d spent more time with my children…

 

We’re good at lamenting lost opportunities.  We’re good at enlisting pity from others.  Such was the case with the man at the pool.  “If only I could get into that water, I’d be fine.”  The man has been telling himself that for decades – 38 years he’s laid there beside the pool, hoping to get into the water at just the right moment so that he might be healed.  But sometime in those decades, he lost his desire to get better.  Maybe he even forgot why he was there.  After all, it was a good place to beg.  There were a lot of religious folks there, all going to the temple.  These guys all had a bit of guilt that made them especially generous, so the man was assured of sustenance to live on.  He could live, but his dreams died.  He no longer had hope of getting into the water.  He just sat there, waiting for his next handout.

 

I don’t know what the problem was with the man at the pool. I’m going to give him the benefit of doubt.  At one point in his life, he probably wanted to get better.  When he first started coming to the pool, he had high hopes.  But he got use to his infirmities.  He’d given up hope of ever making it into the water, of ever being healed.  His dreams had all died.  He continued to go to the pool, without any hope of getting better, but in order to beg and to live off the kindness of others.   His dream for normality was replaced with the desire to get by, to eat for another day.  The idea of abundant life was about as foreign to this guy’s psyche as becoming the king of England is to mine.

 

And then Jesus comes along.  Seeing the man lying there, Jesus’ knows right away he’s been there a long time.  Interestingly, we’re not told here, as in some of the other accounts of Jesus’ healing, that Jesus took pity on the man.[1] Instead, Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?”  It’s an interesting question.  But even more telling than the question is the man’s answer.  We’d expect a smile to break across his face as he shouts, “heck yeah!”  Instead he mumbles, “No one is here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred.  Nobody is here to help me; I’m not able to be healed.”  Instead of answering Jesus’ questions, he makes excuses for his situation.  “If only I had, if only I could… if only someone would…”

 

Jesus doesn’t have time for excuses.  He commands the man stand up, take his mat, and walk.  Surprisingly, the man does what he’s told!  We’re not told how this happens.  John doesn’t say anything about the man’s faith playing a role in his restore ability to walk.  In fact, from reading this story, it doesn’t sound like the man had any faith at all. [2]   Jesus heals this man.  He isn’t expecting it.  He doesn’t ask for it.  He may not even want to be healed.  He’s a man content to be where he’s at, satisfied to live in his world of shattered dreams and to draw on the pity of others.  He will now have to make it on his own.

 

Later on, Jesus encounters the man later, in the temple.  He tells the guy not to sin because something worse could happen to him.  We’re not exactly sure what this means.  Had the man sinned before he became an invalid?  We don’t know.  Perhaps Jesus knew the condition of the man’s heart: that he wasn’t very grateful and that he took blessings as an entitlement.  Certainly by his actions, as recorded by John, we don’t get any sense he felt his life or even his healing was something for which he should give thanks to God.  But, once again, we can’t be sure.  We’re not given an explanation for this second encounter between the man and Jesus—instead the encounter seems to just allow the man discover who it was that healed him. But what does this former invalid do with this information?  He tattles on Jesus, points the finger at Jesus and blaming him for his breaking the Sabbath.  Talk about a lack of gratitude!

 

Think of this guy as a high school student whose parents lend him a car for a Saturday night date.  Driving fast, trying to impress his girlfriend, blue lights appear in his rearview mirror.  Do you think the police officer is going to be swayed if the kid says, “It’s my dad’s fault; he’s the one who lent me the car?”

 

What does this story have to do with us?  I’d suggest we are a lot like the man in the story in several ways.  First of all, we’re scared of the future God offers us through Jesus Christ.  We’re comfortable with the familiar even though we miss out on abundant life.  Life wasn’t what it was supposed to be for the guy at the pool, but it had become easy.  We often forget this: God doesn’t call us to an easy life.  Our purpose isn’t to take the easy road.  When we stick to our laments: “if only I had…, If only I could have…, If only I would have…” we forget Jesus’ promises.

 

Next, like the man in the story, God often gives us what we need, not what we want.  As I’ve tried to make it clear, I’m not sure this guy wanted to get better.  Sometimes we don’t know what we’re asking for, but God knows and gives us what we need.[3]

 

Finally, like the man who was healed even though he didn’t deserve to get better, Jesus also forgives us, even when we don’t deserve it.  After all, that’s what grace is all about.  God forgives us even though we should be condemned.  Having been forgiven, having been offered a new lease on life (like our friend by the pool), we often lack gratitude.  Remember, we aren’t cheap; we’re precious in God’s eyes for we’ve been brought through the blood of Jesus Christ!  This passage reminds us of the danger we face when we live without gratitude towards God.

 

In Jesus Christ, God forgives us.  God calls us.  God tells us to pick up our mats and walk.  God doesn’t want to hear our excuses.  Instead, God wants us to embrace the lives he gives.  Pick up your mat, stand tall and walk proudly, giving God the glory.  Amen.

[1] See Matthew 20:34 and Luke 7:13.

[2] For examples see John 4:50 and Mark 5:34.

[3] See Matthew 7:10-11.


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