Jesus’ Troubling Question

I keep returning to John 5 in my Bible reading time–the healing at the pool of Bethesda. I try to read elsewhere, but I’m pulled back to this text. Each morning, I discover something I hadn’t noticed before. Today, I read the King James Version because it includes the image of the angel who troubles the water.

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

In other translations, Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” or “Do you want to be healed?” I always wondered about this question. Of course the man wishes to be healed. Of course! And why ask the question at all? Why not just heal? It seems like a bizarre question. I’ve heard others say that sometimes people don’t really want to get well because they somehow like their condition and that Jesus was trying to point this out. Or they talk about how the man who would rather complain than be healed. I don’t see the text that way. I see a sick man so hopeless that he’s forgotten how to want anything at all. He’s far more dead in his soul than he is in his limbs.

I think of Jesus’ question as a troubling of the waters of the soul. It’s a question designed to see if hope still lives in the heart. Is there desire left? Is there anything green and ready to blossom in that old soul who waits and waits, discouraged and hopeless? The question stirs up the heart. Do you still want anything at all?

I think about the kind of healing Jesus will offer–physical, yes, but far more important is the way a man’s soul will now come alive. He’ll never have to stand watching as other people get ahead of him for their miracle. He’ll never have to see an angel who comes for everyone but him. The healing waters now flow from within him. Yes, he wants to be whole.


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