16 March 2010

John 5:1-16

"When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be made well?'" (v.6)


Many cultures and religions include in their beliefs a reverence for 'holy waters'. We might think of tokens thrown into pools in ancient times and discovered centuries later by archaeologists; 'clouties' of cloth or ribbon tied to trees in close proximity to natural springs; well-dressing; bottles of holy water brought from sites of pilgrimage; the attraction of both Roman and Victorian spa towns.

In this passage, a man had been waiting a very long time to be healed - 38 years - perhaps much of it spent very close to the pool of healing. Jesus, however, healed the man without reference to the water. The crucial question he posed was "Do you want to be made well?" There is no suggestion that Jesus blamed the man for his illness or disability, but he apparently did need to work within the man's own desire for wholeness and his willingness to take responsibility for himself.

As so often in John's Gospel, the surface story carries a deeper meaning. Jesus knew that over a period of time the man may have lost all hope or desire of being healed. Whatever our abilities or disabilities, perhaps we all sometimes find it easier to wallow in our limitations, to be defined by the things we cannot do, and imprisoned within circumstances we feel powerless to change. It is all too easy to become stuck in a caricature of our true selves.

The story is an invitation to continue to be hope-filled people, awaiting the given moment and responding gladly when transformation and healing are made possible.

To Ponder

What experiences have heightened your awareness of 'healing waters'?

Have you ever come close to giving up all hope of bringing about change in a particular context? How far has it been possible for you to 'be the change you wish to see'?

How do you nourish and attend to your own desire 'to be well'?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Liz Smith

Liz is currently chair of the Leeds Methodist District. She has conducted research into the Church as a learning community, with particular reference to the experience of women.