I had a reflection this morning when I was reflecting on today’s Gospel and I just want to share it. It’s not overly profound, and it might be somewhat influenced by my recent reading of CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce, but here it is.
First, I invite you to take a moment to read the Gospel:
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with give porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there. After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath. – John 5:1-16
“Do you want to be well?”
Jesus wasn’t going to heal this man if the man didn’t desire this healing. The man had been sick for 38 YEARS! That is a long time. That is longer than I have been alive. The man could have easily become disheartened and discouraged, despairing that it wasn’t possible for him to be healed at this point. He didn’t even know who Jesus was or what He was capable of. He could have easily said, “Oh sure, after 38 years, like healing is even possible!” But we see that that’s not his response. Instead it is simply, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone gets down there before me.” Very simply, “Of course I want to be well! I have been desiring it for years, but it just hasn’t been possible up until now!” It is truly amazing to me that this man could be ill for such a long time and not become embittered. I know the littlest hurt or little difficulty so easily makes me bitter. But that is not what we see in this man. After 38 years.
Our desires play a big role in the spiritual life. Jesus has given us freedom, and He respects our free will so deeply. He won’t give us what we won’t desire. This is a big theme in The Great Divorce, that those who end up in hell end up there because they don’t desire God, they don’t desire joy. Rather, they desire to please themselves and cling to other things that are not God.
Later in the story Jesus says to the man,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
And this struck me… this man was sick for 38 YEARS! What could be worse than THAT?!
And then I realized.
Yes, the man was physically sick. But if you notice, his spirit was not sick. He was not bitter; he was patiently awaiting healing, desiring it all the more every day. He did not snap when a stranger, Jesus, asked him a seemingly obvious question. His physical sickness kept him in tune with his spiritual hunger, his spiritual desire. He was open when the Lord approached him. His illness provided him the opportunity to choose between bitterness and patience, and he remained patient.
Just this morning I was frustrated with a particular situation in my life. I thought about how unfair it was, and I was edging closer and closer to bitterness about it. But then the Lord gently showed me the gift of it – this frustration is providing me the opportunity to choose patience, to choose love, to recognize my desire for the Lord’s help. Without it, I might fall into self-sufficiency. Without it, I might not desire the Lord as deeply. Without it, I could easily close in on myself.
We have much to be grateful for. It is easy to see the crosses in our lives as nothing more than that – physical sufferings. But I would like to suggest that they are something more – something for which to be grateful. The Lord allows them in our lives so that nothing worse may happen to us.
And what would be worse?
A heart no longer desiring the Lord, the source of all life and love.