June 28, 2020 – “God’s Questions: Do you want to be made well?” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

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First Scripture = Mark 10:46-52

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Introduction

We are in our penultimate sermon looking at the questions that God and Jesus ask in the Bible. Last week we heard how our ultimate goal is to have Christ in us, and his presence is what gives us the hope of glory.

In two weeks we will start a new series called, “The Gospel According to David.” The four Gospels in the New Testament are the eye-witness accounts of the grace of God as seen in the person of Jesus. So the Gospel According to David is looking at how David demonstrates and desperately needs the grace of God in his life. David hints at, points to what will eventually happen when Jesus walks the earth. So we’ll look at the Gospel through the eyes of David.

This week we are with Jesus in one of the texts that makes me go, “Huh?” That’s a theological term. If I were going to script this scene for a movie, I wouldn’t have my character do what Jesus does in this text. If I were going to tell you how I wish Jesus had handled this situation, I wouldn’t pick what Jesus does in this text. But if we are going to follow Jesus, we have to follow him as he is, not as we wish him to be. Right? Right? Enough preamble. Let’s get to the “Huh?” together.

Main Scripture = John 5:2-9

2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “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.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

Healing One Person

As I’ve shared before, I went to high school in a tiny town in Central Texas. And whenever we had a tennis match against another school, or a debate team performance, or really anything where we had to go against another school, we had to drive. And drive. And drive. Then we would stop and drive some more. And finally, we could compete against another tiny school from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.

One such trip was in 1997, and as we looked out the windows on the right side of the bus we spotted a tornado. It was pretty far away, but even in tornado alley it’s still a “drop what you’re doing” event if you spot one on the ground. This was neither my first nor my last encounter with tornadoes, but I still remember it because of what we learned the following day.

This storm system had spun up a bunch of F3, F4, and even one of the strongest F5 tornadoes in US history. The damage from this storm system stretched from San Antonio through Austin and up to Waco. The town of Jarrel was utterly wiped off the map by that F5 tornado. At its largest point, it was 3/4 of a mile wide. As a character in the movie Twister said when he was asked what an F5 would be like, “It would be like the finger of God.”

F5 tornadoes aside, have you ever seen the aftermath of an F3 or even an F4? Hurricanes can do this, too. You’ll see a row of houses heavily damaged. If it’s an F4, the house might be sitting thirty feet away from its foundation. And after five, six, seven houses of destruction, there will be a house sitting there seemingly unscathed. I’ve seen this with fires, too, where a fire jumps from one house over the top of the second one and ignites the third house in the row.

Surveying the damage like that, I often have one question: “Why was that one spared?” Why not the one next door? Why was that ONE house spared, but not that one, or that one, or that one, or that one? Why?

That question is unanswerable and can drive you crazy. And it can drive you crazy about our text today, too. I’ve been to this pool in Israel. It’s pretty big. You can fit a fair number of people around it. And our text says there were “many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed.” So many people. So many injuries. So many sicknesses. So many rotten stories.

And in the midst of so many…our text talks about “one man.” Just “one man…who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” Why was that one spared, Jesus? Why was that ONE man spared, Jesus, but not that one, or that one, or that one, or that one? Why?

Let’s return to the idea of scripting this story for a movie. If I were writing this script, I would have Jesus noticing this one man and healing him. Same story so far. But then I would show all the other people. They would see this man, who had been ill for 38 years, carrying his mat. They would abandon their carefully-chosen spots near the pool of water. They would hobble over to Jesus. And he would heal them all. What a lovely scene! If you need some tissue, you can pause this and go get it. I know. It’s a touching image.

But that didn’t happen. If you keep reading the chapter after our text today, the man is actually attacked by the religious leaders. That’s not a good script. But Jesus doesn’t seem to care about good scripts, does he? He’s not the Hallmark Channel Jesus. He’s the real Jesus. Sometimes, like healing only one person, the real Jesus can trouble our hearts and minds.

How do you process this? How do you make sense of Jesus only healing that one man in a crowd of needy people? <LONG PAUSE>

Seeing One Person

When I was pretty young, my parents took me to the animal shelter. I was going to pick out a kitten to be my pet. There was a veritable sea of fuzzballs in all shapes and sizes. Their high-pitched “mews” all ran together. Out of this sea of felines, I picked up one. Out of this teaming mass of cute kittens, I only had eyes for one. Pressley. Well, she was “Paisley” at the time, but I thought that was stupid. So I renamed her Pressley.

Pressley would go on to have many unique and partially desirable features over the many, many years of her lifespan. The most entertaining to me was her propensity for hacking up hairballs in my brother’s room while almost never leaving such a gift in my room. Good kitty!

I was reminded of this as I tried to think of a positive to this strange story of Jesus only healing one person in a crowd. As I think about how I picked out my future cat from this plethora of potential future cats, something made me notice this one. Something drew my eyes to this one. They weren’t all the same. This one was special.

In the same way, I believe Jesus is able to see one, single person even in a sardine can of humanity. Jesus doesn’t see us all the same. He has eyes for the one. He has eyes for you. He has eyes for me. You aren’t just another statistic to Jesus. You aren’t “Generic Human #4,234,109.” You are a dearly beloved child of God. You are one person – noticed – spotted – seen – loved uniquely as you.

What does it mean to you that you are noticed – spotted – seen – loved uniquely as you? You aren’t a generic human. Jesus knows and sees YOU. What does that mean to you?

Do you want to be made well?

And so we arrive at Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made well?”

“Nah, Jesus. I’ve just been chilling here for 38 years because I like the view!” Of course he wants to be made well! That would be like asking someone if they want the tornado to skip their house. Of course they do!

So what’s Jesus’ angle here? What’s he getting at?

In one of the novels I read recently, a 25-year-old girl gets hit by some weird energy and she starts aging backwards. Merlin Syndrome, they call it. Her father and mother take her back in and essentially raise her in reverse. Each day they get older and she gets younger. When she’s about 10, her mother suffers an accident and dies, so the father spends the next 10 years caring for his child who loses more memories each day and counts down to the day when she will supposedly die on her literal “birth” day.

As that day approaches, the father wonders what will come next. If she dies, what will he do? He has spent more than fifty years of his life caring for her – aging forwards and then backwards. If she is somehow healed, he will be very old, alone, and having to raise her all over again. Of course he wants her to be healed, but there are consequences that aren’t always pleasant as well.

This is true of our son, too. Sometimes when his seizures are less active, his brain functions better. That’s good. But it can also be harder for us in the moment because instead of being tired and lethargic from the seizures he exhibits the “terrible 2’s” but with an eight-year-old’s body and strength. It’s good when he has less seizures! But there are consequences that aren’t always pleasant as well.

So let’s try to imagine this man’s life up until this point. His entire life has been defined by his illness. His daily routine has been defined by his trip to this pool, hoping to catch a break. He has not worked. He has not made friendships outside of potentially other people at this pool. But how many of those “friends” were healed and never showed up again?

So for him to be healed, everything he has ever known in his life will have to change. If he were to be healed, he would wake up the next morning and not have any clue what to do, where to go, who to talk to. Everything would be different. Have you ever been annoyed when someone moves your car keys or something in your routine is off? Yeah, we’re all like that. His whole life would be redefined in a single day. That’s not easy.

So Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” Do you want to change every aspect of your life? Do you want to flip your world over and start from scratch? Healing is good! But there are consequences that aren’t always pleasant as well.

And did you notice that he doesn’t say “Yes” to Jesus’ question? He doesn’t tell Jesus that he wants to be made well.

My dad surprised my brother a couple of years ago by flying me down to Texas so we could play a round of golf together. To throw him off, my dad told him he was going to get a round with a PGA golfer to give him some tips. But I’ve already told you that what I do on a golf course is a travesty to the game of golf, so you know I couldn’t deliver any tips. Well, that’s not true. I could give my brother one fabulous tip that could shave several strokes off of his game. All he had to do was stop drinking beer while he played the round. Presto chango – lower golf scores! To which he said, “Nah, I’m good.” He didn’t want to be better if it took that kind of change!

Given the consequences, the requirements, the natural implications of what comes next, we actually don’t always want to be made well. Do you have any bad habits or conditions that you value more than the effort it would take to change them? Do you really want to be made well?

Less Obvious Healing

The man in our text today doesn’t quite say, “Nah, I’m good.” But he does point out a different, less obvious problem. “The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool…[and] someone else [always] steps down ahead of me.”

Jesus: “You’ve been here for 38 years. Do you want to be made well?” Sick Man: “Sir, I have no one…”

He’s obviously sick – probably something wrong with his legs. He’s obviously in need of healing. He’s obviously seeking healing because he’s been here every day for 38 years. But less obviously, he has no one. No family still willing to help. No friends willing to bypass their own needs to help him. He can’t pay a helper. He has no one. He feels alone. He is obviously in need of physical healing. He is less obviously in need of meaningful relationships so that he is no longer lonely.

Like I said, if you keep reading the chapter, you’ll see how this man is attacked by the religious leaders because they don’t like how and when Jesus healed him. He is still alone, but for very different reasons. And that’s when Jesus comes back to the man and invites him to be a part of Jesus’ community.

That’s my theory on this text. It’s just my best guess, so take this with a grain of salt. But my theory is that Jesus spotted this one man in a sea of humanity because this man knew he needed new relationships just as much as he needed new health. Jesus started by healing his legs, but he didn’t finish until he had brought this man into the community of Jesus’ followers.

He saw this one man. He saw what this one person needed – and how that was unique among the throngs. He saw that this was not just a generic human. This was a person worth noticing. A person with multiple needs. A person who needed to be restored in health, obviously. But also a person who needed to be restored in community. A person who needed to be restored in faith. A person who needed to be restored as a person with agency in his life.

Where do you need to be restored? Maybe that’s obvious. Maybe that’s not obvious. Maybe you have a list, like the man in our text today. Where do you need to be restored? And do you really want to be made well? Consequences and all?

I believe one of the great dangers we all face in our faith is the tyranny of OK. I’m doing OK. My relationships are OK. I think I’m doing OK with God. The tyranny of OK is looking at other people, thinking we’re doing a little bit better than them, and thus we are OK.

This man first had to admit he needed healing. Things weren’t OK. Things were obviously not OK with his body. But things were also not OK with his relationships. Things were not OK with his soul. He knew he wasn’t OK several layers deep.

Are you doing OK? How many layers down are you OK? Or is there something you’re trying to hide from God, something that you say, “At least it’s not as bad as that person over there?” If you could wave a magic wand and heal or restore something in your life, even if it’s several layers deep, Jesus sees that. He doesn’t just see you as a generic human in a crowd of generic humans. He sees you. He sees all of you. He sees however many layers deep he needs to see to notice where you need his Good News. Out of all the kittens at the animal shelter, he has eyes for you!

Will you admit what’s really bothering you – even if it’s several layers deep? And once you admit it, do you want to be made well? Jesus is the right person to ask. It probably won’t go as you would script it. Jesus doesn’t care about good scripts. He’s not the Hallmark Channel Jesus. He’s the real Jesus. So when the real Jesus looks at you and deep into your life and heart and soul… “Do you want to be made well?” What’s your reply? Amen.