Spider-webbing is one of those “coined” terms to describe how some folk seem to bounce from one topic of conversation to another topic that seems to be utterly unrelated. Yet, with a bit of patience and exploration, some thread of connection can usually be found, although it may weave back and forth through a myriad of associations between the place of origin and the final resting place. My wife can be a master of the spider web, and it has become a bit of a competition between my daughter and myself to see who can figure out the logic of how she got from one thought to another.
Yet I must confess my own tendency to spider-webbing during some of my ruminations and reflections about certain topics. I was mulling over joy, the theme for this Sunday’s sermon when all of a sudden the phrase, “do you want to get well” popped into my head. Let me trace the thread.
The question was famously posed by Jesus to the man whom he met at the Bethesda pool near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. John records the incident in his gospel (5: 1-15). The man Jesus addressed had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years – whether he had spent all those years by the pool is not detailed, but he had certainly spent enough time there to have tasted the frustration of never being able to receive a miraculous healing. Tradition held that every now and then an angel would stir the waters of the pool, and when that happened, the first person to enter the waters would be healed. The complaint of the invalid was that whenever the angel stirred the waters, someone else beat him into the pool because he was without anyone to help him.
Whatever else can be said about elements of the story, this challenging question, “do you want to get well?” has always haunted me. It haunts me because ultimately, it appears like this amazing invitation to healing, mercy, blessing and above all, joy, yet how often do we simply respond to Christ’s question with all of our well-rehearsed excuses?
As an example, how many of us suffer from a serious malady of unforgiveness? How many of us carry around an inordinate amount of anger, pain, fear and resentment because of things done to us, by words said about us or by kindnesses, acknowledgements or affirmations which we felt were deserved but were never given? How many of us are bowed over with the weight of our bitterness or by our longing to be proven right and justified before in our opinion or actions? And all the time we are busy nursing our grudges, polishing our wounded egos or hauling about the burden of our self-righteousness, we are missing out on the gifts of release, freedom, and joy which God has waiting for us. Do we want to get well?
Alternately, what about the dysfunctions of our lives which bind us with the chains of shame or eat away at our sense of self-worth, self-respect and peace? How many of us have been slaves to our temptations or our tempers, to our addictions or our anguish, to our sin and self-disgust, yet all the while keep holding onto those life-leaching, joy-stealing enemies of our wholeness? Do we want to get well? Do we want to be set free?
Or I could ask about our oh-so-very human tendency to avoid confessing our mistakes, follies, stupidities, cruelties, arrogances, omissions, failures and sin. Someone once said that of all our sins, our capacity for self-deception must surely rank up right after pride. We love to point out all the justifications for the things we have done or said or failed to do and say. We are pros at detailing all the terrible contributing factors to our behaviors and decisions, factors over which we really had no control, and why we should therefore be deemed innocent of blame. And then we wonder why our life is in chaos, our relationships are in shambles, and our private inner world is so devoid of meaning, serenity and joy? Do we want to get well?
Jesus asked the man long ago whether he wanted to get well, and though he never really received a proper response, because of his great mercy, the Lord provided the man healing and wholeness. And despite our tendency to mutter excuses rather than to offer our pleas to the Lord, how amazingly has he lavished healing, forgiveness and grace upon us? Yet how much more healing for the soul and freedom for the heart does Jesus have for us if only we would tell him, “Yes, Lord, I want to get well. I want to be set free of the things that crush me, reduce me, imprison me, shame me. Please, Jesus, I confess and name the things that have crippled me for far too long. I don’t want to carry this garbage, this guilt, this rage, this fear, this gracelessness, this addiction, this pain any longer. I want to get well. Lord give me courage to do the things that are mine to do, whether that be to forgive or to repent. Help me to surrender to you the things that are too huge for me but are not beyond your strength working in me. Teach me that the joy of letting you work your power in me and to change me, no matter how painful the spiritual surgery may be, is so much better, so much sweeter and so much lovelier than staying in this place of my brokenness, thinking that someday, I might make it into the pool. Heal me and I shall be healed. Save me and I shall be saved.”
Such joy that could be ours if we but asked Jesus for help. But do we want to get well?