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Do you want to be made well?

As part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death last weekend radio 3 had a programme of recorded actors and actresses spanning almost one hundred years comparing their deliveries of well known speeches. The variety of pitch, tone, pace, pauses, emphasis, quietness, or loudness was extraordinary with even the best known: “Follow your spirit ad upon this chage cry God for Harry, England and St. George.” given new inflexion and fresh expression.

So I wonder how exactly Jesus said “Do you want to be made well?” let us pause a moment to allow that question to roll around in our minds; imagine Jesus asking you the paralysed man – what would it be like?

The story is unlike the healing stories we are used to, most often the person approaches Jesus , there is a sign of faith; we are not told in this case that the man “believed”. (like the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak, or the blind beggar on the road.) In fact we may feel that there is evidence he did not up until now have any understanding of Jesus at all. The pool at Bethesda was a pagan shrine most likely to Asclepius the Greek god of healing who is often associated with baths and spas with mineral or radioactive properties. On the face of it there seems no particular reason why Jesus should heal this man. But then the grace of God is fully and generously given whether we think we are worthy or not. Jesus approaches the man.

He has been ill for thirty-eight years, a very considerable time. John tells us that Jesus knew he had been coming to the pool for a long time already a hint of the miraculous.

“Do you (really) want to be made well? And I wonder did he say “Do you really want to be made well?” or use an inflexion that suggested that?

Is the man’s description “I have no one to help me” an excuse or a hidden request to Jesus to help him down to the water? Jesus has no need of the paraphernalia of the pool, the porticoes, the steps, the bubbling of the waters. His word was enough. Enough for a paralytic of thirty eight years to stand up and walk immediately. No need for physiotherapy, no labouring, no stretching exercises simply “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

John means to arrest us, to gather our full attention with the magnitude of this miracle so that we arrive attentive at the conclusion “Now that day was the Sabbath.” This in John’s account is the beginning of the conflict with the Jewish leaders; until now the signs that Jesus has performed have been accepted as positive, unthreatening but now Jesus has healed the lame, in line with Isaiah’s prophesy and dared to do so on the Sabbath. The man carrying his mat will be told he is doing something unlawful just by carrying it on the Sabbath. By hr way this is seriously unlawful. This is not a question of a venial sin such as eating meat on a Friday forbidden by the Catholic Church when I was a boy. Listen to this from the book of Numbers: 15:32-36

Or from Exodus:

“Observe the Sabbath because it is holy to you.
Anyone who desecrates the Sabbath must be put to death.”

Following Jesus, putting our faith in him – after all the man did what Jesus asked – may put us at odds with those in power, with the authorities, our bosses those around us closely attuned with the modern values of acquisitiveness and ambition. Following Jesus, though, walking in faith will bring a spiritual healthiness beyond our imagining.

Do YOU want to be made well?

Amen

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