The Burden of Being Healed
Meditation on John 5:8-15 by Cris Cramer
John 5:8-15 (NIV):
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
This is the second half of the story about the man at the Pool of Bethesda, the invalid who was waiting for his chance to get into the pool and be healed. Jesus short-circuited the man's plan by healing him directly. And then the story really starts to get weird.
Jesus commanded the man to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. John notes that this miracle happened on a Sabbath, and according to Jewish religious law, carrying things on a Sabbath was forbidden. So the sticklers for the law immediately get on the man's case for walking around with his mat. He tries to defend himself by saying that he was healed by a man who told him to pick it up and walk, but in the meantime Jesus had slipped away. The man was left alone with his mat and his restored physical ability, with no idea who had healed him.
Then John skips forward in time, saying Jesus later found the same man at the temple and warned him to stop sinning. The man went to the authorities, finally able to answer their questions: it was Jesus who healed him and told him to carry his mat on the Sabbath. As a result, the authorities start persecuting Jesus because of his apparent disregard for the law.
So many things puzzle me in this story. It seems to start out so well, and then drops into confusion and bad faith and persecution. Central to all my puzzlement is the man who was healed. Why did he respond in this way to Jesus? As far as we can tell, he never said thank you, never asked who he was, never tried to listen to him. Maybe John simply left those things out, but in the final case, the man didn't accept Jesus. He informed on him to the authorities.
Real life is untidy. It's more satisfying to have stories that end well, with a happily-ever-after and smiles all around. But we don't always get to have a pleasant conclusion -- not in the stories we read, and not in our own stories, either.
Healing is a blessing, but it also brings its own burdens. It brings change and different expectations. It may place us in debt to our healer. Sometimes we don't really want healing, not when we start to understand what healing really means. Sometimes it's easier to stay sick, stay weak, stay where it's familiar. Sometimes we stay in places where we can hide from responsibility, because how can we possibly deal with that problem or this difficult thing in our condition?
Did the man really want healing -- did he want the change that Jesus was bringing into his life, change in ways that he maybe didn't expect? Did he want to be indebted to a person for his changed circumstances, rather than just bellyflopping into a pool and then going on his merry way, free as the breeze?
We have no way to tell for sure what the man's motivations were for his actions, either before or after Jesus healed him. The more important question for me is, what are my own motivations? Where am I asking "please heal me" but keeping my fingers crossed behind my back? Is there any area in which I'm avoiding responsibility by avoiding being made stronger? Where are my own feelings and intentions unclear? Where is Jesus choosing to be silent in my life, where is he slipping away unseen, because I'm not ready to accept the burden of being healed?
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