The man had been ill a long time. Thirty-eight years in fact. He had tried everything. Hoped that one-day a doctor, a priest, or someone would know how to fix him. But thirty-eight years is a long time. His chronic condition had worn his soul thin until there was only one small thread of hope left. To put it modern terms, he was hoping to win the lottery. That’s how unlikely his one last hope was. Discouraged and bitter he waited, there was nothing else for him to do. He saw others get better, win the lottery as it were. But no one took pity on him or helped him. So, alone in the crowd, he waited until one day someone walked up and asked, “Do you wish to get well?”
The man’s answer to that question not only tells us about the condition of his heart but something about ours as well. Even a sarcastic, “Duh, what do you think? Why else would I be in this place?” would have been a better answer than what he gave that day. Instead, he complained about the unfairness of the situation and how no one helped him or would let him win. Somewhere in his answer Jesus found the glimmer of a “yes”.
This encounter is recorded in John. “After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted. A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.” (John 5:1–9, NASB95)
It is often easy to see why something can’t happen. We can get so bound up by the “can’ts” that all we see are roadblocks and setbacks. Now, I’m all for being realistic and pragmatic. Sometimes there are roadblocks and impossibilities that need to be navigated. The problem is when all we see are roadblocks and fail to see the path of hope. There is also a flip side to this where we ignore the problems and roadblocks and pretend that everything is peachy. We need to avoid the blinders of false optimism and intentional ignorance as much as debilitating discouragement. If Jesus were to walk up and ask, “do you wish to get well?” Those taking refuge in bitterness would respond, like the man at the pool, with all the reasons why it is impossible. Those taking refuge is false optimism might respond with an “I’ll be alright.” All the man at the pool really needed to say was, “yes!”
I don’t know what roadblocks or impossibilities are in front of you today. It could be anything, chronic illness like the man, financial strains, emotional stresses, relationship frictions, or hopelessness from a loss. Perhaps all you can see are the “can’ts”. Or perhaps you’ve given up on hope and ran toward the refuge of lies, pretending that everything is ok. It is risky and perhaps painful to live in the turbulence of reality, but that’s where Jesus is. That’s where Jesus is asking you right now, “Do you wish to get well?” Just say “yes!”
As an addendum, I don’t know what road Jesus will take you on by responding “yes.” It could be miraculous. It could be a filled with steps of obedience. It could be that His answer is different than your dreams, desires, or expectations. More than likely it will be some combination of all three. I can promise you this, when all is said and done, when the mountain has been climbed and you look back at the path, you will see how Jesus was with you the whole time.