Dave Brisbin 5.7.23
A man has been ill for thirty-eight years. Ill enough that he’s spent all those years lying by a public pool begging for a living and waiting for a healing. Jesus comes by and asks him if he wishes to be well. After thirty-eight years, that should be insulting. The biggest no-brainer of all time. And yet, the man can’t simply say yes, exclamation point. He complains there is no one to help him get into the pool when the healing waters stir. But that’s not what Jesus asked.

What exactly did Jesus ask? In Aramaic, it would be something like tsaveh d’ethelem. Tsaveh is a form of tsevyana, the word we translate as will, but in the sense of desire, delight, pleasure, deepest purpose. Ethelem is complete wellness, wholeness, and health. Paul uses the word to denote sound doctrine, so we could say integrated—sound mind and body—just as shalom (peace) is really the greatest amount of connection, health, prosperity. Jesus’ question is all-encompassing: is your deepest purpose and desire to be whole, integrated, living in shalom, in kingdom?

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These ancients viewed illness not as a medical problem, but the tragedy of being taken out of the flow of day-to-day life, to lose social standing and interaction with family, friends, neighbors, commerce. To be healed was to be restored to community, everything that gives meaning to life. Jesus knows this man is sick, not just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, relationally. When he can’t simply say yes to wholeness, we all know he is steeped in a victim mentality that keeps him from the relationships that are healing and forgiveness, restoration to all that life offers.

Jesus heals the man anyway, but he doesn’t even ask his name or look for him afterwards to thank or follow. The deeper sickness remains. Jesus finds him later and tells him now that he’s well, don’t sin anymore so nothing worse happens. Jesus isn’t promising more disease as punishment, but making a central point. Sin isn’t unlawfulness to be punished…sin is disconnection itself. The man is physically healed, but more importantly has been given a chance for new relationship. Will he take it? Will we?


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