Come, Thou long expected Jesus;
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Early on in the professional wanderings of Jesus, the misfit band of God-in-flesh and his fishermen entourage came across an infirmary. This particular group of handicapped folks hung out in a prime location. Within walking distance lay the famed Pool of Bethseda. This little body of water would provide an excellent plot point for the next Indiana Jones movie because it had a magical, mysterious power about it. Every day, an angel would come down to “trouble the waters” of the pool of Bethseda and whoever was sick could come down and be healed beside the waters.
You could figure how it would be a prime location for those who were handicapped, blind, and paralyzed. The troubling thing with the troubled water, however, is that only the swiftest, it seemed, could be healed because it was first-come-first serve and only one healing was possible every day. Without being an expert in miracle healings caused by whirlpools, I would have to say that it seems strange to me that there could only be one a day, but that was the way it was.
And so one Saturday (this was, apparently, before college football gloriously took over Saturdays), Jesus and his guys happened upon a group gathered down by the water and one particular man captured his attention. It was a man who had been there a long time, thirty-eight years, to be exact. We are not sure if that meant he was exactly thirty-eight or if he had been physically whole at some point in his life, but the fact that he had been infirm for nearly forty years should be enough to make him stand out- or blend in. Long ago, you would have to think, everybody had given up on him and damn near forgot him. But Jesus saw him.
And when he does, Jesus asks him what appears to be one of the all-time insensitive questions. Do you want to be healed? Can you imagine? What would you say if you were that guy? This is one of those questions that you find yourself regretting half way through, a’ la when’s that baby due?
It is like when my friends visited a maximum-security prison and somebody asked an inmate Are you going to be around later? The response? Yes sir, I have a life-sentence. Some questions we can just never get back.
How would you answer, if you were in the handicapped man’s shoes? Are you indignant? Are you baffled? Are you angry? Are you confused? Are you hurt? Do you feel any love coming from God at the moment? Are you glad he came or would you rather the day went by without a personal visit from the God who wrote the story of your suffering?
I love the guy’s response. It is so very telling.
Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going down another steps down before me.
For a day I would believe those are legitimate reasons. For a week, I would say that is a sad story. For a month or two, I would say that is tragic. For a year, I would say that is pitiful. For thirty-eight years, I would think that it is somewhere between extremely improbable and mathematically impossible. Six days a week, fifty-two weeks in a year, thirty-eight years, we are talking nearly twelve thousand days. Did somebody beat him to the punch 11,897 days in a row, or did he take a few of those off?
Do you think at some point he lost hope of ever getting well? Do you think he resigned himself to the half-life he was living? Do you think he came to a point where he decided that healing was not for him? Do you think indifference ever crept into his heart? Has it ever crept into your heart?
As I think about the Advent, the expectation of the coming of Jesus, not only as we remember Christmas, but as we look forward to the healing that is to come at the end, I wonder if we should ask ourselves this same, seemingly heartless question:
Do I want to be healed?
Do I want to be free?
Do I want to be released from my sins and fears?
Do I think that such a thing as “rest” even exists anymore?
We all have twelve thousand reasons for giving up on healing. We have failed at this whole “righteousness” thing. We have failed at this whole “relationships” thing. We are barely scraping by in this whole “reality” thing.
Some of us have lost people we loved. One a spouse, another a child, another a dear friend, a mother, a father, a sister or brother- we have all taken a significant hit at one point or another. Some have endured abuse unimaginable. A friend who promised to be there for them has cast some aside.
Each of us has tried once, twice or more to be healed, and just like the man laying so close to the troubled waters, we have failed at so much as being healed. Jesus offers the same healing to us as he did back in that day. He offers himself.
He tells us to get up and walk- regardless of what day it is- today is the day.
Will we have the mustard seed of faith that convinces us to stand up and walk?
Do we want to be healed?