In the story of the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda, (John 5: 1 – 15), we hear Jesus ask a strange question: “Do you want to be healed?” This is certainly not the only time that Jesus asks a sick person this surprising question in one form or another. Sometimes he says: “What do you want me to do for you?” when it seems to be glaringly obvious what the person wants. But it surely is a really fundamental question.
One could imagine for example that perhaps the reason that the paralysed man had never got down to the water was that he was in some ways ambivalent about what healing would mean for him. Did he in some way find his daily shelter under the five porches at Bethesda to be a sort of club? Did kind people bring food for the crowd of sick and disabled people, or did they share the food they had? Did he find it very hard to imagine what life would be like if he was healed, and was he sure that he really wanted all the new challenges it would bring?
Commenting on this passage, one of my teachers, who was himself a doctor before he became a priest, makes some interesting remarks. He says that people can be ambivalent about getting completely healed. He also says that people often have a very hazy idea about what healing would mean and sometimes indeed, quite an incorrect one. He says they are often actually asking for a return to a way of life which made them ill in the first place – a return to the former status quo where bad habits could carry on without their debilitating effects really kicking in, a return in fact to a false image of health and wholeness which actually leads to sickness. It’s the syndrome of the couch potato who’d like to be fit but can’t imagine life with plenty of fresh vegetables and a decent amount of exercise.
The story of the paralysed man can be seen as a metaphor for our own spiritual sickness. In my tradition we have a hymn where we remember this healing and ask Christ to “raise up my soul paralysed by sins and thoughtless acts”. On the spiritual plane it’s easy to see well-being as a kind of cosy cosmic cuddle and simply not be able to imagine the depths that real spiritual wholeness would mean.
As well as not being able to imagine what it would be like, we may also be fearful about the costs. The Lord does make some pretty challenging statements about the cost of discipleship. He talks a lot about dying to our selfish desires so that we can truly share his life. It’s a big challenge!
CS Lewis puts it brilliantly:
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must hatch or go bad.”
We do have a problem here. How can we strive for something of which we have no knowledge? How do we imagine the possibilities so that we know where we are heading?
If we compare this story with that of the healing of the other paralysed man, the one who was let down through the roof to Jesus’ feet by his friends, we are struck immediately by the fact that this man had no friends. He says: “I have no-one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred”. Without Jesus’ help he has no chance of healing.
Again, the teacher I mentioned earlier has forceful words on the role of friends in healing. He appeals to each of us to think about the people standing next to us. What problems may they have? What trouble? What pains? What can we do to help them?
Let us look at one another with understanding, with attention. Christ is there. He can heal; yes. But …there are so many ways in which we should be the eyes of Christ who sees the needs, the ears of Christ who hears the cry, the hands of Christ who supports and heals or makes it possible for the person to be healed. Let us look at each other and have compassion, active compassion; insight; love if we can. And then this parable will not have been spoken or this event will not have been related to us in vain..
Do I want to be healed? Do I truly want spiritual wholeness? Can I visualise what this healing would be like? Can I bear the transformation it would mean? A step on the way to both visualising it and committing to it is surely to take seriously this call to compassion, to sharing in Christ’s love for those around us.
 Mere Christianity p 165
 Metropolitan Anthony Bloom Sermon on the Sunday of the Paralysed Man 21 May 2000