Do you want to be made well?
Jesus asks this question of a life-long disabled man, someone unable to assume the duties and responsibilities of normal adulthood. He had lived thirty-eight years as a hopeless beggar, waiting for a miracle.
Jesus asks,”Do you want to be made well?”
Surely he would answer, “Yes, of course.”
In fact, the man didn’t say that. He made an excuse: “But no one will get me to the miracle water fast enough!”
Jesus ignored the excuse. He told the man to pick up his mat and walk.
The man did.
An article on a health-related website detailed the story of a woman with multiple health issues, particularly diabetes and decreased lung capacity, who had been stabilized after an extensive hospital stay. She was sent home with careful instruction on food choices and a mandated complete cessation of smoking.
Less than a month later, she was re-admitted to the hospital in significantly worse health than when released. She begged the doctor to fix her so she could attend a grand-daughter’s wedding. Alarmed at her state, the physician made some inquiries and learned that she violated every dietary instruction AND immediately resumed smoking despite the instructions.
She didn’t want to be well. She wanted someone to fix her.
Don’t we all?
We search for the magical God who will override not only all our unfortunate decisions but also all forces of nature, mathematical odds (lottery winners, anyone?), economic systems and our own DNA in order to make us well.
Consider again this man to whom Jesus spoke. He spent his life infirm, subject to the whims and appearances of others. He had no profession and had developed no skills of daily living except begging for crumbs of food.
Jesus says, “Get up. Walk forward and join the human community as a fully participating member.”
But it takes work and courage to be made well. Real wellness exists in a state of physical and spiritual cooperation with God. It also means sometimes defining wellness as acceptance of physical illness, economic hardship, relational pain, and even death, for wellness does not mean escaping these things.
Above all, the state of wellness exists in those who are willing to be responsible for their own choices, refusing to blame others for their circumstances, and actively receiving merciful grace from God so they may give it to others.
A well person might be debilitated and ill physically, but sees illness as the path, however unwillingly chosen, to finding wholeness of soul. Remember, Jesus soundly condemned those who suggested that the problems of the physically ill and infirm were caused by either their own sin or sin of their parents.
Conversely, wellness is not necessarily the acquisition of perfect physical health, which can and often does become an object of worship.
Instead, a well person is an integrated, God-breathed human being, prepared at any moment to enter the full presence of God while living equally as fully as a member of the human community.
Even so, a large percentage of physical illnesses today, the so-called “diseases of civilization” mostly tied to atrocious food and beverage habits, are caused by unhealthy choices. How does a person who lives in that kind of disease state answer Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be made well?” Such is the case with our re-hospitalized woman.
What would it mean in that case to “take up our mats and walk?”
I believe that “walking” means acknowledging that all choices have consequences, many so far off in the future that we can’t fathom what they might be. “Walking” also means willingness to accept those consequences without blaming others–or expecting the magical fix. Finally, “walking” means intentionally leaving behind that which keeps us stuck and moving forward into holy freedom.
I fear we’ve become those who no longer know how to walk as well people.