It was called the House of Mercy for a reason, for it was one of the most broken places in all the city. There a great multitude of disabled people used to lie: the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. And one man, in particular, had been there for thirty-eight years. That’s a long time! John does not tell us his name, but does tell us that the man was an invalid (astheneia), literally meaning one without strength. Luckily for him, Jesus always shows up in the broken places—both then and now.
Jesus saw (eidō) him sitting there on his mat. Oh, how long had it been since this man had been truly seen? How long has it been since you have been truly seen? Yet, Jesus saw into him, as he does into you. He didn’t just see the brokenness of his body, but, more importantly, he saw the brokenness of his heart and soul. And when he saw him and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, Jesus asked the man a question: “Do you want to get well?” Or, literally, “Do you want to be whole?” Which, on the surface, seems like a ridiculous question, but, in reality, is anything but that. It is actually quite profound. Not only profound then, but also profound now. For all of us, like the strength-less man, are, deep within, resistant to change. We have grown oddly comfortable in our brokenness, our dysfunction, and our sin. So when Jesus asks us that question, he is really asking us: “Do you really want to get well? I mean, really?” He doesn’t ask this to shame us, but to awaken us to a quality of life and wholeness and freedom that he desires for us; one that life on the mat can never achieve.
“I have no one to help me,” replied the broken man, “whenever the water is stirred up someone else gets into the pool ahead of me.” A telling answer to a profound question. Luckily, Jesus was there to help. He was there to make the broken whole again, even if the broken are resistant to the responsibilities of a changed, whole life.
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” Jesus told the man. “If you really want to be well, I can make you well. But it will mean that you have to get up from where you are, pick up your mat, and walk. If I make you well, you can’t simply return to life on the mat again. You can’t simply return to your old ways of being and seeing; everything must change. Life with me requires movement. I want you to be healed and whole and free. And immediately the man was healed; he picked up his mat, left his old ways, patterns, and dysfunctions behind, and started a whole new life.
The bottom line in the spiritual life is that something must die within us, in order to make room for something beautiful to be born. What is that for you? What needs to die within you? How do you need to get up? What mat do you need to pick up? What life do you need to leave behind? And what beautiful thing does God want to do within you as a result? God wants to do a work of healing, wholeness, freedom, and beauty within you, the only question is: “Do you want to get well?”