When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
As we approach the sixth Sunday of Easter, we are continually being challenged to see life by the light of the resurrection, through the eyes of our resurrected Lord. As we read in last week’s WFB post, looking through the eyes of the resurrected Jesus reveals the whole world as a burning bush ablaze with God’s glory. The resurrection is the beginning of our faith journey, not it’s end. The empty tomb invites us to see a life filled with potential and purpose.
The Gospel text this week puts us in the midst of a Jesus encounter pregnant with implications for resurrected living. Jesus approaches a man sitting by the pool of Bethesda with multitudes of other “invalidated” people. A place, the text alludes, where this particular man has been lying in wait for healing (resurrection) for 38 years.
The man, before and even after the miracle, seems to have no idea who Jesus is, much less an expectation that Jesus himself is the fountain of living water — the one to provide his long-awaited healing. Jesus singles him out of the crowd and asks a seemingly obvious question, “Do you want to get well?” The man’s response reveals the limitations of his vision. He does not answer Jesus’ question; instead, he simply seeks help getting into the waters of the pool at the appointed time. He is certainly open to “partnership” with the able-bodied man standing in front of him if that “partnership” guarantees his immersion in the water – the source of his perceived salvation.
I remember once awakening from a dream in a cold sweat. In the dream, I had been walking on the beach of an abandoned island with Jesus. It was a beautiful respite from the rigors of life as a pastor, ministry director, husband, friend and father. However, I found myself getting restless in the dream because I had determined the time of “respite” was concluding, and I needed to get back to the insurmountable importance of my “real world” tasks. The “cold sweat” occurred because, in my dream, Jesus asked me to consider why life on this island with him, in uninterrupted friendship, seemed like such a distraction from what I had determined was the real significance of my purpose on earth.
Like the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, I had determined what body of “water” held my healing and salvation. I was willing to partner with Jesus, even to take a walk together on an abandoned beach, if it meant that our partnership would help me to immerse in the waters of ministry success, the feeling of being needed, and the affirmation from others in my role as a caring husband, friend and father. In other words, my relationship with Jesus became a willing partnership of manipulation; Jesus became for me a means to an end. I used him to accomplish what I had determined would save me instead of seeing the fullness of salvation in him alone. I was, and remain, haunted by the words of Thomas Merton who wrote how easy it was to “spend ones whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to discover that when we get to the top, our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”
Jesus seeks to teach the man in Bethesda to open his eyes to a new vision of reality. He rejects the man’s idea of partnership — being helped into the pool. Instead, he says “You do not need help immersing into the water of that pool. Look upon me, as I am the never-ending fountain of Living Water” – “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.”
The Gospel not only empowers us to see, but to see from a particular vantage point. It invites us to see from within the reality of the resurrection. From this new perspective, all of life comes into focus and we see and hear the resurrected Jesus.
As you move into the sixth Sunday of Easter, do you understand who is directly in front of you, asking the question at the heart of living a resurrected life? Are you learning to see from within the reality of the resurrection? Do you hear the invitation to participate in the ongoing work of creation that results from such empowered living? It takes a while for our eyes to adjust to the light of the resurrection, but when it happens, all of life looks radically different.
Joel Van Dyke
Director of The Urban Training Collaborative