On a visit to Jerusalem, Jesus stops by the BethZatha pool. On five porches surrounding the pool lie people in need of healing. Ancient versions of this story explain that “an angel of God went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease the person had.”
As Jesus surveys the crowd, he spots a man who’d been lying at the pool for a long time, 38 years, John tells us. Jesus approaches the man and asks: “Do you want to be made well?”
On the face of it, the question is absurd. Do you want to be made well? You’re an invalid, literally lying on the brink of healing for nearly 4 decades without receiving it, when this stranger walks up and asks if you want to be made well? Of course, you want to be made well!
Perhaps it’s because the answer is so obvious that the man doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he explains why he hasn’t been healed. ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I’m making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’
So, some questions. How had the man lived on that porch for 38 years? How did he obtain food? How did he receive shelter from the elements? Why was no one else with him? Why didn’t someone else who saw him there not help him? Why hadn’t he figured out in 38 years how to get himself into the pool?
It’s easy to get stuck in pain, isn’t it? Because of bone spurs on both heels, I was unable to walk without pain for a decade. I’ve been a walker my whole life. As a kid, Walkin’ Lawton Chiles was a hero! I love being able to get myself from one location to another! And walking in the out-of-doors does more for my mental health than just about anything. Not being able to go for walks for ten years was hard. It changed my quality of life.
Did I want to be made well? Absolutely! But after talking with a podiatrist and learning what fixing my feet would involve, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Removing the bone spurs required detaching the Achilles tendon, then reattaching it. I’d be non-weight-bearing for a couple of months. Full recovery would take a year. Then I’d have to go through the process all over again with the other foot.
For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine how to do the work needed to heal. I tried months of PT–which didn’t help. I tried to wish the pain away, to pretend it wasn’t there. That didn’t work, either. Then I tried making my peace with the fact that this was just how I was meant to live–in pain, not walking long distances. The price of the healing process was too high. Jacob wrestled with God and limped the rest of his life. Maybe that was my fate, too.
Yes. It’s easy to get stuck in pain. It’s easy to become mired in our wounds…not because we LIKE the pain and the wounds, but because they are familiar. And because the prospect of going through the healing process is too overwhelming. Too scary.
When I told a clergy friend about my feet, regarding surgery she said, “You know it’s a matter of when and not if, right?” That’s when I knew my resistance to the foot surgeries wasn’t smart or healthy. I suddenly realized how tired I’d grown of lying on the porch on the brink of healing without receiving any. I scheduled the surgery. That was in 2016. Three years later, August 2019, I had the other foot done.
It was on a hike at Craggy Mountain near Asheville in August 2020 that it hit me: I was a walker again! For the first time in ten years, I wasn’t having to think about every step I took, calculating how much it would hurt. I was simply walking the trail, enjoying a beautiful summer day in the mountains. A thrill ran up my spine when I realized that–at last–I had my life back. I had MY life back. Because I’m a walker.
I need to be clear here. Not everyone has the luxury of receiving surgeries that will heal their bodies. I realize how fortunate I am that those surgeries were available to me. I tell this story to share how difficult it was to decide to do the work of healing. For me, choosing not to engage in the healing process left me in pain. For a long time, because the cost of healing seemed too high, I chose to suffer. I thought that was my only option. Once I decided to engage in the healing process, I was able to let go of my suffering and re-enter the life I was meant to live. I was, once again, my true self.
That’s my story. What’s yours? Is there some pain you’re clinging to because the cost of healing seems too high? Do you have wounds that you’ve simply learned to live with because they’re familiar, because you fear bigger wounds if you give yourself over to the healing process? Does allowing your suffering to continue feel safer than opening yourself up to the vulnerability required to engage in the healing process? Do you worry that if you start crying, you’ll never stop?
And what of our country? I quoted a devotional writer this week who suggested that the last couple of years, our country has been in a protracted nervous breakdown. It feels like an apt description. Hate-mongering. Government assaults on bodily autonomy. Legalized discrimination. Over 1 million people dead from Covid…and millions more left to grieve their loss. And, though it’s hard to believe it could get any worse, the escalation of gun violence. And our Earth…what has our greed done to our Earth, that now is in dire need of healing? (Class)
And what of the wounds in our own UCT community? We have lost beloved members… some to death, others to a shifting of their faith journey. For much of the last two years, we lost the most basic source of healing this community provides– simply gathering together for worship. We’ve been grateful for the ways Zoom has helped us connect–and we’re glad for the people with whom Zoom has helped us connect who aren’t able to come to 1834 Mahan Drive– but Zoom is not the same. Seeing each other, talking with each other, hugging each other… Not being able to do that for so long has created deep wounds for all of us.
In some ways, the pandemic has sent all of us to the porch by the pool. Until now, we’ve been lying at the pool’s edge, unable to get ourselves into the healing waters.
I wonder if now is the time–for our country, for us as individuals, for our UCT community, as we continue our resurrection journey…Might now be the time to make our way to the pool’s edge and– finally–slip in? Might now be the time we bring our wounds to this community for healing? Might now be the time when we hear Jesus’ call to take up our mats and walk and we do it?
Here’s an image of another healing pool–the pool at Warm Springs, Georgia. Somehow, minerals in the water at Warm Springs ease the effects of polio. President Franklin Roosevelt experienced relief from the polio paralysis he contracted as a young man. As President, except for 1942, Roosevelt visited Warm Springs every summer.
The pool at Warm Springs wasn’t healing only for the first person who entered the water. The healing in that pool was there all the time for anyone who entered it. The healing didn’t happen all at once. I don’t know that people took up their mats and walked, but healing did come.
And healing didn’t come only from the minerals in the water. Healing also came from the community created by those who came to the pool each day. At that pool, no one had no one. Everyone had everyone else in the pool. They had each other. The minerals did their part to heal. The community they created did its part, too.
The story of Jesus healing the man who’d been sick for 38 years is pretty spectacular… but here’s another way to imagine this story. Imagine that all the people on those five porches at Beth-Zatha Pool started talking with each other, like the people did at Warm Springs. And what if, as they talked, they began to plot and scheme together? And what if in their talking and scheming they found a way for all of them, every last one of them, to jump in the water at exactly the same moment? If they all touched the water at exactly the same moment, what could God’s Spirit have done but to heal every last one of them? Now, that would have been spectacular! I think God would have giggled a little if that had happened.
Do we want to be made well? Does our country want to be made well? Do we as individuals want to be made well? Do we as a church community want to be made well? If so, how might we help each other heal? How might we act each other into wellbeing? How might we bind each other’s wounds?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2022 (2021)