Rise and Take Up Your Mat

“Do you want to be healed?”

Of all the questions Jesus asks in the Gospels, this is one of the ones that I find most provoking.  The setting is Jerusalem and He is speaking to a man who has been paralyzed and lying on his mat for 38 years.  My sarcastic nature wants to respond to Jesus with raised eyebrows and a retort of, “Of course he does!  He has been lying there for THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS!”  The answer seems obvious to me.  This provoking question is why this is one of my favorite passages to discuss with my sophomores.  (I have many favorite passages…I’m not certain how many, but a lot.  Favorite depends on the day.)

Why would Jesus waste the time to ask this poor man if he wanted to be healed?  From outside the situation, we assume that healing is what is desired.  In this situation, the man desires healing and he finds it in Jesus Christ.  However, Scripture is the living Word of God, which means that there is something in this passage for me in 2015.  Jesus is presenting the same question to me today: Do you want to be healed?

One of the highlights of teaching is when you can, as an entire class, deeply enter into the passage.  Their fidgeting ceases and the room feels still.  This is where the encounter happens, I believe.  The class is led through a lecture/conversation that is like the following.  We are quick to realize the necessity of physical healing—few would have a broken leg and drag themselves around on it, insisting that it will get better or that it is no big deal.  Yet we do this with our internal wounds all the time.  Jesus pinpoints our wound and asks as the gentle God that He is, “Can I heal this?”  He asks if we want it.

As a class we discussed possible reasons why the paralytic might be scared of being healed.  Perhaps he wonders if the healing will last, maybe he doesn’t want to get his hopes up that it could happen, and perhaps he will walk oddly or trip when he walks.  I asked them in what was his identity rooted.  After being a paralytic for 38 years, it would make sense if that was how he primarily thought of himself–as someone who couldn’t walk, someone who felt abandoned by God.  Yet to be healed would mean that his identity must change–he would no longer have the characteristic he used to define himself.  That change could be frightening.  We began to see how the man is brave to seek healing from Jesus.  In seeing the importance of the paralytic accepting Jesus’ healing, we saw how we also needed to embrace the healing that Christ offers.  Ours may not be a visible, physical healing, but rather an internal one.  Yet if the Healer desires to heal, shouldn’t we embrace that?

We live in a wounded culture.  I hate that we are so wounded, yet I love that sometimes I am able to point to this woundedness and proclaim, “In the beginning, it was not so!”  We are longing for wholeness and perfection because we were made to desire that.  But first we need to see ourselves where we are—we are the paralyzed man, lying vulnerably before the Giver of all good gifts, being asked if we want to be made whole.  May we have the courage to say ‘Yes’ and to embrace all that will come of being healed, particularly if it means coming to a deeper understanding of our identity as a child of God.

“Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” Jn. 5:8
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