Boudreaux was drunk and lay sprawled across three entire seats in the movie theater. When the usher came by and noticed him, the fumes of liquor just reeling off him, the usher leaned in and whispered, “Sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”
Boudreaux groaned but didn’t budge.
The usher became more impatient. “Sir, if you don’t get up from there, I’m going to have to call the police.”
Once again, Boudreaux just groaned.
The usher marched briskly back up the aisle and called the police.
The officer arrived, surveyed the situation, and asked, “All right, buddy, what’s your name?”
“Boudreaux,” he moaned.
“I’m Cajun too. Where ya come from, Boudreaux?”
With terrible pain in his voice, and without moving a muscle, Boudreaux replied, “Da balcony.”
We know that when the Greeks and then the Romans came into Judea, they brought with them their gods. There was a god for everything. One for good crops, one for fortune, one for war. In addition, there was also a benevolent god of healing: Asclepius. You may be familiar with two of his daughters, Hygieia (hygiene) and Panacea (universal cure). His symbol, known simply as the Rod of Asclepius, is a staff with a snake wrapped around it. You may recognize that from your doctors office.
At the time of Jesus, Asclepius was quite popular and the temples that were dedicated to him, Asclepions, served as hospitals for the sick and places for those who could not be healed to come and receive assistance.
Our Gospel reading stated, “Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralyzed.” This pool of Beth-zatha / Bethesda was only a short distance from an Asclepion, a temple to the healing god, which has led many scholars to state that the pool of Bethesda was associated with this temple.
As Jesus is walking alone through this area of Jerusalem, he saw a man who had been lying by the pool for thirty-eight years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man responded by saying there was no one to help into the water when it was “stirred up.” Whether it was an underground pool bubbling up or water coming in from some other source, the water was “stirred.” The superstitious believed that the first one in the pool when it was stirred would receive the healing that was being presented.
As an aside: some of you may remember this story from years ago, but with one other detail. If you have a more contemporary version of the Bible you will see in John, chapter 5, the verse numbers go from 3 directly to 5. Verse 4 has been omitted. It reads, “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water.” Those who study these things say that this verse was added much later to provide some explanation as to what was happening, but that it was never in the original text. It is an interesting detail, but really has no bearing on the event. End of rabbit trail.
What is clear is that the man held to some superstitious belief associated with god Asclepius that if he got into the pool first, when it was stirred up, he would be healed. To him Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” That is a loaded question.
Do you want to be made well? The smart aleck in me would want to pop up and say, “Well, duh! I’ve been trying for thirty-eight years! Of course I do.” But then again, maybe not.
In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey writes, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him.
“Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. That was a lot of money. I found that it was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate.”
The man had been sick for thirty-eight years. He was accustomed to, day after day, coming to the Asclepion where he would be fed and his needs taken care of. If he were made well, then he would have to begin taking responsibility for himself. Perhaps his life was difficult, but after thirty-eight years he may have been comfortable enough. Or, perhaps, after such a long time, he just didn’t care anymore. He was so beat up that he had given into despair. However, whatever the case, in order to be made well, the man had to respond to Jesus.
It is curious that the man does not answer directly. Instead, he says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Obviously Jesus took this as a “Yes,” and brings the desired result. “’Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
We know that the words and actions of Jesus often contain more than one meaning. This holds true here. Jesus is using the man’s physical illness to speak to the wider problem of spiritual illness.
So the story, “in the middle of a pagan temple,” becomes “in the middle of a pagan world,” Jesus encounters a man who has been sick, who has been trapped in sin, for thirty-eight years—all his life, and asked him, “Do you want to made well?”
Like the physically ill man, this spiritually ill one had lived in sin a long time. He was accustomed to, day after day, living this life. If he were made well, then he would have to begin taking responsibility for himself. He would have to begin to follow the commands of God. Perhaps his life didn’t turn out the way he had planned, but he was comfortable enough. Or, perhaps like old Boudreaux, he had fallen off the proverbial balcony, he had lived in sin for so long, he just didn’t care anymore. He was so convinced that there was no hope for a ruined soul such as his, that he was defeated, that he simply gave up trying. Whatever the case, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to made well?” For Jesus to bring healing, the man must respond. Jesus said, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” A response is required.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to remain physically ill and I also have a hard time believing that there are many who want to remain spiritually ill. For most, there is a desire, a need, to be made well, to be holy as He is holy, but how and where to start. It is to these that Jesus asks, “Do you want to made well?” Funny, it is easy to think of Jesus asking this question to others, but always a bit disconcerting when we think He is asking us: “Do you want to be made well?”
In 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II was to be crowned, the invitations went out. For you and I, when we send out formal invitations we will mostly likely include a request: RSVP — “Respondez, s’il vous plait.” Please let us know if you are coming. However, when the Queen’s invitations to her coronation went out, they included the note: “All excuses ceasing.” There is no RSVP necessary. There are no excuses acceptable. The Queen has asked you and you will be there.
If you are one who cannot figure out how to be well, how to be holy, then if you will listen, you will hear the voice of Jesus asking, “Do you want to made well?” When you hear it, think of it as having that little addendum to it, “All excuses ceasing,” and set aside your concerns and those feelings of inadequacy, that you’ve fallen too far to be healed. Stop making excuses for the sins in your life, take responsibility for yourself, and then answer Him.
Jesus ask, “Do you want to made well? All excuses ceasing.”
You answer, “Yes.”
Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
Some translations have “Stand up” translated as the word “rise.” “Rise” is used a number of times in the New Testament, but in several instances the word rise is used in some very exciting places. For example, when the women came to the empty tomb and the angel of the Lord spoke to them: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen.”
Jesus ask, “Do you want to made well? All excuses ceasing.”
“Then stand up, rise, be resurrected, take your mat and walk.”
You being “made well” starts and ends with Jesus, but in order for that work to begin, you must answer Him. You must say, “Yes.”
Let us pray: Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He who in His great mercy gave us new birth, a birth unto hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; a birth to an imperishable inheritance, incapable of fading or defilement, which is kept in heaven for you who are guarded with God’s power through faith; a birth to a salvation which stands ready to be revealed in the last days. Amen.