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by Thom Fiet
The scriptures are full of haymaker questions. The first question in the Bible is from the mouth of the Lounge Lizard, a strange creation of God who asks the comely and buck-naked Eve: Hey beautiful, can I buy you a drink? And, by the way, did God actually say that you must not eat from ANY tree of the Garden? Eve took the drink and the bait and here we all are, writhing in the quicksand of our knowledge of good and evil. Thanks Eve, for my esophageal and IBS issues. Atta girl.
The questions keep coming like V2 rockets, sporadic and devastating. The next one comes from God himself, also from the hallowed circus that was the Garden. A question of location comes forth: “Where are you?” No, it has nothing to do with location; it has to do with their existential compass. WHERE ARE YOU?
The explosions go on: I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, don’t you get it? What is your name? Who do you say that I am? Why are you crying? Do you love me more than these? Each question a crater upon the human landscape. It is possible to know the ark of the scriptures simply through the questions. If only we were given a siren when one was about to crash into our hearts.
And now today we have another. Do you want to be well? It is a rhetorical question where the answer is certain: no. For heaven’s sake, the man has been ill for 38 years, a healing would be a shock to his system. If he were to be healed, he would face a terrible new day. His relationships would be traumatized. His self-image would go through the ringer as he would have been blamed somehow for his malady, but now what? His livelihood would be destroyed. Did God punish the wrong person? His would be at the epicenter of scandal, he would become an icon of God—the God who makes terrible mistakes. Then there are the many new patterns and responsibilities he must enter and master, and the terrible burden of gratitude, say nothing of survivor’s guilt, just crouching in the tall grass.
Of course he does not want to be well. Jesus should know that all systems seek equilibrium, even when the system is founded on death. We see it in our friends, our family members, our places of work. We see it in political parties. We see it in ourselves, as we are plagued by maladies we have no intention with which to come to terms. We’ll throw a fig leaf on it if we have time. We’ll harp on something else to keep the attention off of it. We’ll find a scapegoat, there is one born every minute.
But become well? Not a chance.
Being well takes tremendous courage. It takes vision, determination, a white-hot hope. It takes saying no to that which has kept us in bondage, and yes to what is so often unknown. And typically there is a lot of explaining to do.
Jesus will heal this man. I wonder if he lumbered off regretting it for the rest of his life. He may have; for just as he is walking away, carrying his posturepedic mat, the religious leaders slither toward him and say: Hey Buddy, can we buy you a drink?
Thom Fiet is pastor at Lyall Memorial Federated Church, located in Millbrook, New York.