Jesus performed surgery with questions.
The gospels describe him wielding the interrogative like a scalpel. At first sight, these can sound like stupid questions. No doubt onlookers scoffed. He must have known this, yet he pressed into his surgical task with uncommon persistence.
Jesus comes upon a paralyzed man who has lain just feet from his supposed source of healing for nearly four decades. Several factors in the brief narrative of the Gospel of John suggest this unfortunate possessed either a dimwitted or a roguish character. The best money prefers ‘rogue’ to ‘dimwit’
Perhaps he had accommodated himself to his misfortune, even found some protection in it. After all, a man who lies in the same place for thirty-eight years is to be pitied for his immobility, but might perhaps be envied for the stability of his predicament. He likely did not wake to new and shattering challenges. Just the old, well-known one.
Jesus asks him a question.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ (John 5:6 ESV)
Rude responses spring quickly to mind.
Yet Jesus knew what he was doing. The man’s response is evasive and therefore diagnostic.
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 going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ (John 5:7–8 ESV)
It is possible to read the man’s explanation as simple and accurate reportage. This seems unlikely.
Jesus, in my view, saw in the man a need to define for himself whether he really wanted to be whole. His life, post-healing, would be conflicted, as the narrative itself hurries on to show.
He would no longer be the man who lay in the same place for 38 years and counting, defined by his history, bracketed by his immobility, delimited by what he cannot do, perversely cradled by his status quo. He would become, should he dare to want to be healed, a deciding, testifying, harassed actor in life, more subject than object. Life, vertical, would be tough in a way that perpetual prone-ness was not.
Once passive and dead, socially speaking, but now active, alive, and responsible.
Not every one with a clear view of what it will mean to be healed wants that.
We choose the safety of our addiction, our inability, our predictability. It is, in a way, a logical decision.
Life and wholeness with Jesus are much more precarious. Large things will be asked of us and we will ever be smaller than the demand.
Do you want to be healed?