I once knew someone whose life had become a living hell. So many traumas and losses had accrued, exacerbated by and exacerbating physical and mental illness, family and financial troubles, she was like a fly caught in the web of a very busy spider. Listening, I didn’t know where to begin; she was sure no good outcome was possible.
Isn’t there always a good reason things won’t improve? We don’t have the support we need; something derailed us; we’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people. The sick man in this week’s gospel story laid the blame for his continued infirmity on the other sick people around him who, he said, never let him get into the healing waters when they were stirred.
The 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.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
I love Jesus’ response: he says nothing about the pool. He doesn’t tell the man to stop feeling sorry for himself. He doesn’t advise how to compete with the other people. He sidesteps the whole process in which the man has put his hope, and gives a command that has the power to effect what it commands: “Stand up, take your mat, walk.”
How did these words land on this man, so sure there was only one dim possibility for reversal, if only he could get into that pool at the right moment? Did he think Jesus was mocking him? Crazy? Or did he feel a sensation in his body and limbs that told him something was awakening, something had changed? Did he worry people would think him insane if he attempted to stand? We don’t know; we’re told only that he did stand and began to walk.
This man did not heal himself. He did not exercise faith and become more open to healing. This was entirely Jesus’ faith at work. That’s important for us, both as we seek healing for ourselves, and as we minister to others. We don’t have to put ourselves or others into the right frame of mind. We only have to bring Jesus into the picture and believe in his presence. And if we hear a command – and we may or may not – we should act on it.
If you were to tell Jesus in prayer today about the most “stuck” area of your life, the one about which you feel the most despair, what would it be? Try it, and try listening inwardly for a response. It might come through a word that fixes in your mind, or an image or scene. Or you might find yourself sitting or walking with Jesus in your imagination. Whatever unfolds, go with it. Might Jesus give you insight on the stuckness? Might he command you to be free?
In the life of God there is always another way healing can come. We cannot assume it will come only through prayer or medical care or neither or both. We are to take the actions before us, but not get tied to them. At any moment, even thirty-eight years later, Jesus can come into our picture and set us free. He doesn’t have to untangle the web; he has only to command in love, and the bonds fall away. And if we invite him in, we can experience release that much sooner.