"Frustrated & Desperate"

5 May 2013 - Easter 5C

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 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.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.


Sometimes you can learn a lot about a person

just by looking at them.

Medical professionals are thoroughly trained in making a clinical assessment.

It begins with carefully looking at an individual from top to bottom;

looking for clues that suggest further investigation.

Swollen ankles suggest a close listen to the heart and lungs.

Pupils and nail beds are a window into how well a person is circulating their blood.

Sweating might be due to a long run

or a cardiac emergency.

Black eyes might be the sign of head trauma.

Sunken eyes might be a chronic disease or near death.

Flappy skin might suggest dehydration or muscle wasting.

Redness of the buttocks, elbows, or heals might be due to bed sores.

Jesus wasn’t a doctor

- not as we would understand it today -

though he was the greatest of physicians.

“Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time.”

Thirty-eight years is a long time.

Most of us live in very insulated silos,

where work, family, faith, and recreation define us.

It is a world of upward mobility,

success is measured by the paycheck,

where education is prized,

and hard work is admired.

We cheer for teams,

gather groceries,

shovel snow covered sidewalks

and mow the lawn when it gets shaggy.

But there is another reality for a large number of individuals in our community;

it is the reality of chronic disease,

disabilities (as they are often called),

or skilled nursing care.

The day is defined by the routine established by others;

dependence on others for eating, dressing, toileting, bathing, and getting around;

and for keeping individuals socially engaged.

Family might be near, or far, or non-existent.

Every personal detail is kept in a file

and professional recommendations are referred to as a “goal plan.”

Institutional care for many includes riding a bus,

food from a common kitchen,

shift changes,

staff changes,


day programs,

sheltered workshops,

locked units,

and the stigmatizing, judgmental look of others from outside the industry.

The humanity, dignity, and value of both

your world

and other’s world

is equally beloved in the sight of God.

Today, Jesus crosses the boundary between these two worlds.

He steps FROM the world of a Jewish festival

in a bustling urban environment,

filled with shopkeepers, family members, children playing, religious leaders, and government officials


a day program for individuals

suffering from chronic medical conditions.

The day program was called an Asclepeion,

named after a Greek god,

and was known as a healing temple.


a valley being dammed up such that two pools formed;

the higher spilling into the lower.

Image each pool excavated into stuccoed finished pools 40 feet deep,

complete with five accessible pool decks between them.


a building built over each pool

and dedicated to the Gentile god of healing, Asclepius,

and these natatoriums being named beth hesda -

which means “house of mercy” or “house of grace”

but, in the slang, became known as a place of “shame” and “disgrace.”

You now have the picture

in your mind’s eye

of today’s Gospel encounter

at the Pools of Bethesda.

Traveling from Galilee in the north,

entering the blue-collar Sheep Gate of the city

together with shepherds and sheep herded to the Temple for sacrificial slaughter,

Jesus enters beth hesda,

sees an invalid laying on the pool deck,

“knew that he had been there a long time,”

and asks him,

“Do you want to be made well?”

I have no idea why Jesus chose this particular man,

or, why Jesus didn’t choose another,

or, why Jesus didn’t heal them all.

Likewise, I have no idea why

some pleas to God apparently are answered

while others,

just as deserving, mind you,

remain seemingly unanswered.

My goodness, the silence of God

is capable of reducing individuals

into agnostic haters of all things God.

I can only pray,

trust in grace abundant,

drink in whatever love is give me,

and believe that God has a greater plan.

“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks.

This might be the most important

and most intimate questions Jesus can ask.

He asks this suffering invalid,

filled with 38 years of frustration and desperation,

“Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus knows the answer to the question before he asks it.

Of course he does!

Leave the pain and suffering of his prior life behind?

Leave the isolation and stigmatization of 38 years in his past?

Leave the bloody rags and his worn mat behind in the disease ladened natatorium?

Of course he does!

Walk out into the sunlight of the day?

Walk into the streets of the city and return to his family and home,

perhaps picking up some groceries on his way?

Enter into a world where everyday life is full of life, love, and opportunity?

Of course he does!

But, every time the healing water stirs

someone else steps in line in front of him.

“Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus steps from his heavenly world and into ours.

He transcends the divide between us,

and asks

in the most intimate and loving ways

if you

and I

want to be made well.

Of course we want cured,

but Jesus isn’t asking that.

He asks us if we want to be made well.

The question can plumb to the depths of


to emotional,

to spiritual,

to complete wholeness.

Wellness might be cure,

or it might be

release from condemnation for the sins of our past.

Wellness might be assurance for our future,

even our eternal future.

Wellness might be healing of our broken relationships,

the shoring up of our mental health,

or the comforting assurance

of our complete dependence on God

and his good will for us.

“Do you want to be made well?”

He knows your answer

even before you became aware enough to ask.

Then, come to the Baptismal waters,

if you’ve never come before.

Come to the altar and make your petition in prayer

and be made well.

Come to the table,

feast on his body and blood,

and become the living answer to our Lord and Savior,

“Yes, Lord!

I want to be made WELL!”

Dearly beloved,

like this desperate and frustrated invalid,

Jesus brings wellness

whenever he crosses the boundary from your and my world

into the world of another.

God’s grace flows when

we can transcend boundaries created between neighbors,

when we can break down walls that separate us,

when we choose to reach out

and to reach up.

This means God is calling us to leave our boats behind us

walk by the side of Jesus,

and with him,

to seek other seas.

“Do you want to be made well?”

“Yes, Lord!

I want to be made WELL!”