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“Do you want to get well?”

“Do you want to get well?”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 –– The Epiphany and Following (Year One)

Julia Chester Emery, Missionary, 1922

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 942)

Psalms 121, 122, 123 (morning) 131, 132 (evening)

Isaiah 63:1-5

Revelation 2:18-29

John 5:1-15

For thirty-eight years this unnamed man in John’s gospel lay by the Bethsaida pool. You get used to a way of life if you continue in it for thirty-eight years. Imagine back to 1974. How old were you? Where were you living and what were you doing? Imagine your life today being consistently the same as your life in 1974. Same place; same circumstances; nothing changes for thirty-eight years. You’d be adapted and comfortable with that life by now, even if it’s not optimal. Would you react with eagerness if someone said, “I’ll change all of this”?

“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked the man. Whoa. Just a minute. He doesn’t even go there. He explains to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…” He understands the situation. He explains. He makes excuses. He’s grown accustomed to it. It’s not so bad. Obviously he has food, shelter, companionship, a familiar life that is comfortable enough. He is so used to this situation that he doesn’t even think about its changing. Thirty-eight years. It’s been this way a long time.

“Stand up, take your mat and walk.” He does so. We might think, “He is healed! It’s a miracle. How wonderful!” Whoa. Not so fast. There are a couple of problems here. We have regulations. We have rules and customs here. You can’t do that on a Sabbath. Carrying a mat on the Sabbath is not allowed. Immediately the man gets in trouble with the authorities. “Why are you carrying the mat?” “The man who made me well told me to.” “Who is he?”

Now his life has become really complicated. He knows what the authorities might do to a troublemaker who is sabotaging the Sabbath laws. If he tells them who healed him, he knows they’ll go after Jesus. It won’t be pretty. But if he doesn’t tell, he’s in big trouble. He becomes an informer. He tells the authorities.

And there are other new problems for him to consider. Tomorrow, the first day of the week, he’ll have to go looking for a job. When he was lame, others had a responsibility to look after his basic needs. Now he’ll have to take on new responsibility for himself. It’s going to be harder. He’s not going to get the same kind of help he used to.

Yet, his life is immensely richer. He can walk. He has new possibilities for living more expansively. It was the right decision, though a hard one, to take up his mat and walk. But he had to overcome great inertia and some powerful vested interests to make this change.

We Americans spend a lot more on health care than any nation on earth, yet by most metrics of health, we aren’t in the top ten among other nations. We’ve got a sick system. But if someone asks, “Do you want to get well?” there are plenty of excuses, complications and vested interests to be considered. It’s been this way a long time. There are regulations. Who’s going to take responsibility if you change what we’re familiar with?

Some people live in homes or relationships or jobs that appear pretty miserable and dysfunctional. But after thirty-eight years, you learn to adapt. You get pretty comfortable with the pathology. It’s easier to live with it than to change, you think.

If someone comes and says, “Do you want to get well?” will we make excuses, or will we do the hard work of taking new responsibility? It’s a tough question.


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Lowell Grisham


Thank you for your comment. I think you are exactly right. When the man by the pool became well, he probably threatened the very settled system around him. I’ll bet he felt the pressure from them to go back to his customary role.


Ted Garvin

I happened upon this article by “accident”. The title struck me like a blow.

I have a severe mental illness that I have had to come to terms with. Yet I find that I am held in chains as much by others’ needs and expectations as much as I am by my own difficulties.

The man who lay by the water for so long no doubt had relatives who questioned his sudden wellness.’Lie down’, they’d order him.

It was hard, walking again.

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