Like a movie in which the villain waits behind a door that the hero is about to open, we want to shout at the invalid in John 5:1-9 to change the unalterable direction of the story. To the hero, we want to yell, "Don't open it!" and to the invalid we want to say, "Just say yes!" Of course, the beauty of a story like that is our desire to participate in the action even though our efforts are useless.
The Holy Spirit notwithstanding, John is a gifted writer. He leads us to the Sheep Gate and the pool, by which the infirm and lame gather in hopes of healing. He brings us to a man who has been lame for 38 years--a long, long time. Jesus, perceiving that the man had been there for a long time, asks the man, "Do you wish to be healed?" Even unspoken, the answer is yes. We all know that the answer is yes. Jesus, too, knows it. He would have to be a callous, insensitive jerk to ask the question and not know the answer. Instead, he asks to invite the man to participate in his own healing.
But the man doesn't say yes. Instead, he says, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up." We might expect Jesus to shrug his shoulders and walk off, bewildered that the man was so close to the healing he sought but did not know enough to ask for it. But Jesus doesn't do that. The man can't see beyond his predicament, but Jesus can, and Jesus gives him another opportunity to participate in the miraculous sign that follows: "Stand up, take your mat, and walk."
I'm not preaching this week, but, if I were, I would choose this gospel lesson because there are so many possible directions for a sermon:
- Jesus brings healing even when we can't see past our own problems.
- Jesus shows us how to hold onto the man's dignity.
- The man teaches us not to expect manufactured humility when we offer to help someone.
- The story teaches us to look for salvation in new, non-traditional ways.
- The story is a reinterpretation of the wilderness paradigm.