In John 5 we find a question asked by Jesus, which might seem strange if we think about it.
John records the healing by Jesus of a disabled man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, a pool called in Aramaic Beth hesda or “House of Mercy” (or “Grace”) probably because of the healing associated with its waters. Many sick and disabled individuals came to this area and literally lived by the sides of the pool waiting for an opportunity to be healed by the water’s occasional, but seemingly miraculous action. It was one such individual – a man lame in his feet for a great many years – whom Jesus asked “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6B). If we simply continue the story from that point we see the man affirmed his desire by way of explaining why he had not been healed after many years: because of his lameness he was never able to get to the waters quickly enough when the transient healing conditions occurred.
But if we go back to Jesus’ question it bears thinking about. Ostensibly it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you were very ill and I came to see you and said “do you want to get well?” you might think I was being sarcastic, exhibiting a strange sense of humor, or at the very least, had poor bedside manner. Obviously, when Jesus asked the question none of these things applied. So what did he mean?
We should remember that the man Jesus healed was not alone at the pool of Bethesda. A great many sick and handicapped individuals were there. For some of these people their illness or disability had doubtless become a means of earning a living by way of the alms of passers-by. Their illnesses had perhaps become a way of life which ultimately was not as bad as what some people face. They were not starving and did not even have to work, though naturally, their illnesses may have precluded many or most of these unfortunate people from working. But the point is that, for many, their illnesses had become a lifestyle to which they had become accustomed (Jer. 10:19) and perhaps in some cases with which they were even reasonably comfortable. This is not in any way to try to gloss or deny the illnesses and physical hardships these people may have suffered, but perhaps there is an answer to Jesus’ question here.
Keep in mind that in most cases people who had heard about his healings came to Jesus and asked for help. In this instance it was a Sabbath and it appears that Jesus purposely went to an area where he knew there would be a number of sick individuals in order to choose someone to heal as an example that it is not wrong to do healing and helping work on the Sabbath day (John 5:8-10, 16). Now look at this from the perspective of human psychology. Some of the people at the pool of Bethesda, including the man Jesus healed, had been there for many years. Their lives may well have been bleak and seemingly hopeless. But in those circumstances the human mind often tries at least to grasp on to what it can. Perhaps some of these people had become resigned to the fact that this was their life, and that it could perhaps have been worse. Few people gladly embrace drastic change in their lives – sometimes even from bad situations.
Could this possibly have been the reason Jesus asked the man if he wanted to get well? Jesus did not go around asking all the sick at the pool this question. What drew him to this man and caused him to ask a seemingly redundant question? Could it be that Jesus could read the hearts of these people, or was guided by God to do so, and could it be that this man was unusual in his group – a man who did fervently want to be well? If Jesus had compassion on this individual for this very reason, perhaps his question was as much for his disciples’ hearing, and for ours, as for the hearing of the man himself. Perhaps Jesus was not only acknowledging that not everyone at the pool deeply wanted to be well - and let his question single out this individual who truly did – but he was also asking a question that applies to all of us.
The moral of this story is larger than that small pool in Bethesda, and even larger than physical sickness. Before God calls us, we live in spiritual sickness. We are spiritually blind, deaf and lame. Due to the results of sin our lives may be bleak indeed, yet we still cling to them, often justifying the causes and effects of which we are victims, sometimes longing for something better, yet all too often comfortable in our spiritual sickness, or at least accepting of it. When God calls us He gives us the opportunity to be free from our spiritual illnesses and disabilities. But that is a huge change for our human minds and when the call comes, God does not just reach down and heal us. He asks us, in effect, “Do you want to get well?” and we must choose.
Just as the man healed of his physical ailment at Bethesda had to choose to begin a new life with responsibilities and work that had not been there before, so we have to count the cost and make the decision that we want to start a new life of spiritual health. Then, just as Jesus told the man he healed, we must act to keep sin out of our lives in order to stay spiritually healthy and not revert to spiritual sickness (5:14). We have to want to be well, and then we have to want to stay well in order for the miracle to continue.
No wonder Jesus asked the lame man if he wanted to be well. But it is a question that applies to all of us as much as it did to the man at the pool of Bethesda!