Do you want to be made
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
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?
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