“Jesus said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”
To be made well. It is something that everyone wishes for when they fall ill or suffer from a longterm illness or condition for which there is no cure. The desire to be made well is a desire that springs from within the deepest parts of our being; we want to be made whole as a human being, to have the ability to move freely and to exercise our free will through the movement of our bodies. The desire to be made well is often thought of in the most immediate terms – in the wellness of the body. The desire is to appear strong, to have the appearance of being a person that is complete and able to do the things that everyone is able to do. But, the first reading of this desire leaves much unattended that is equally important to the well-being of humanity. The desire for wellness can also be thought of as a desire for wholeness throughout the human person. It is a desire to have wholeness not only in body but also wholeness in spirit and in mind. We desire to be complete and to have our dignity restored as a person created in the image of God.
The question that Jesus asks of the man is a question that we might think we should take as our own. It is a question that reflects our need to feel helpful, needed, wanted by others. As we survey the landscape of creation, it does not take long to see the truth of what living in a tragic, fallen creation means. With just a cursory glance of our surroundings, we can identify people that are struggling with the affliction of poverty, disease, malnutrition, physical disabilities, mental disabilities, infectious diseases, terminal illness….
In this scene, Jesus witnesses the same tragic reality of creation. Jesus sees a man that is struggling with a physical affliction. The man sits by a pool intended for healing and wants to move into the waters “when they are stirred up” to find the healing that he desires so deeply. Jesus enters into the scene, witnesses the tragic condition of the man, and extends the grace of God flowing through the power of the Spirit to the man that is in front of him. Jesus enters into the tragic reality of creation in an effort to reconcile humanity to God through that same Spirit that abides in us, adopted children of God. It is the same Spirit that enables us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” that moves through Christ and empowers Jesus to achieve the mission the Father sent him on – to restore the dignity of humanity by walking a life of servanthood that we are able to witness.
And while we are able to witness the things that Jesus does in his own life and ministry and are able to make note of things that Jesus does in order to restore the dignity and worth of humanity, we are not able to repeat those things in the same way because we are not, like Jesus, of a divine nature that allows us to share the grace of God’s love in the way that Jesus is able. In short, we have to find analogous ways of sharing God’s love and grace because we are not the Incarnate word, the second person of the Trinity, that is able to extend the grace of God’s love because he is of the same nature and substance of God. As much as we would like to extend the healing, reconciling love of God in the same way Jesus does, we are limited because we are creatures that are different from God. Yet, we are able to share God’s love in unique ways by virtue of our nature as creatures that are created in the image of God. When we see the tragedy of sinfulness in our world, we are able to confront that sinfulness by sharing God’s grace in a way that is unique to our nature as creatures, and we are able to share God’s grace in a way that is communicable through our relationships with other persons.
In the question that Jesus asks of the man, Jesus immediately respects the dignity of the man in front of him. Instead of simply scooping the man up and putting him in the pool or simply telling him to get up and walk, Jesus asks the man what he desires for himself. He takes the time to engage the person in front of him and to ask him what he desires for his own life. Jesus takes the time to listen to the person in front of him and respects the dignity of the man by creating the space for that interaction. In this short exchange, Jesus gives to us an example of the way that Jesus takes the place of a servant within a creation that is wracked with sin and tragedy. Jesus shows us a way that we, as creatures that do not share in the divinity of God, can extend the power of God’s loving grace to others through relationships and through taking the time to learn about the desires of the person standing in front of us.
In an essay on the Trinity, theologian Kathryn Tanner writes, “The Word does not appear during its incarnation on earth in the form of God but in the form of a servant – a servant whose very mission requires taking up the position of those burdened by sin and death.” In Jesus, the Word seeks to serve others by recognizing the dignity of another and doing so through the limits of being a human being that is bound by its creatureliness. Jesus engages us not as God is able to engage us but as a fellow human being that struggles with the realities of being a creature in a world of tragedy desperately looking for a sign of hope. Jesus takes on the role of a servant not only in the way that he relates to the Father but also in the very fact that the Incarnate Word shares in the same finite realities that all human beings experience. Jesus takes on the role of a servant by working through those realities and by showing us ways that we too are able to share God’s grace and love with each other.
As we inherit the Spirit that empowers Christ’s ministry on earth, we are able to move out into creation to share that same Spirit with others, but we also have to remember that our role is to be the servant in our service to others. It means that we have to remember to look back to Christ’s example and reflect God’s love in the way that Jesus shares that love – by working within the finite reality of being a creature. It means that we have to take the time to ask the person standing in front of us what she desires for herself; it means that we have to slow down enough that we are able to ask the questions that need to be asked, to listen to the response that is offered, and to find the ways that we are able to share in Christ’s ministry together. We have to slow down in order to give the Spirit time to work through our lives as we seek to share God’s love with others in ways that honors the dignity of every person we meet while being transformed by the slow work of the Spirit in our own lives. When we give the Spirit the time it needs to work through our lives – to work within the boundaries of a creation that is wracked with sin and death – we also create the space for the Spirit to be shared in a way that communicates the hopefulness that we find in Christ. By being patient, asking questions, and listening deeply to people burdened with the sins of the world, we take up positions of servanthood.
Though our servanthood is different from the servanthood of Jesus, it is no less important or as powerful as Christ’s walk on earth. We, like Christ, need to take the time to listen deeply to the communities that surround us and have something to teach us about the depths of God’s image here on earth. We, like Christ, need to slow down in order to listen to the story of another and to hear her desires for herself. When we slow down to the point of giving the Spirit the time to fill up our lives and spill over into our relationships, we discover that we have become vessels of the Spirit – the same Spirit that tells another, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”