Christians tell a story about a magical pool of water in a place called Bethesda. Bethesda locals insisted that sometimes an angel came and stirred the water, and when she did, the first person who stepped into the water (and only the first person) would be healed.
Word spread, of course, and after a while the pool was surrounded by the sick, the blind, the paralyzed – each one waiting for the water to move, each one with a plan for being the first in the pool. Each one waiting for her lucky day. Or perhaps – just perhaps, the sick whispered to one another, perhaps the angel would feel generous, and everyone would become well. It was worth a try. It was worth the wait.
One man waited for 38 years.
Jesus shows up one day at the Bethesda pool, and he notices Many-Years-Waiting Man. And He realizes -- maybe because the God part of him “knew,” maybe because the human part of him could just tell when a body has been laying in a particular position for a very long time -- either way, Jesus realizes that the man’s wait has been a long one, and He asks the man a question:
“Do you want to be made well?”
Which is an interesting question to ask of a man who has waited 38 years for a chance to be healed.
The man blurts: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
The man had no one to put him into the water when it stirred! He was dragging himself towards the water when it moved. Of course someone with working legs (or helpers) was going to beat him there every time. Every. Damn. Time.
Jesus responds to the man’s explanation with a single sentence:
“Rise, pick up your mat and walk.”
Here’s what the gospel writer says happens next: "And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked."
This is a wonderful story about the healing powers of Jesus of Nazareth, but ohmyfriends, this is so much more than the story of one man’s lucky day.
It’s a formula.
Do you want to know what Jesus of Nazareth says to those of us who struggle? With anxiety, depression, addiction, compulsion, grief, self-loathing, regret, self-reproach, fear – all the mean little voices in our poor little heads? He says:
“Do you want to be made well?"
And if you answer yes, He replies:
"Rise. Pick up your mat and walk.”
Yeah. I know. It’s not razzly dazzly. No angels singing. No blinding white light. (Ok. Maybe lights and angels some times for some people. But not often. And not usually for us.) No matter.
Do you want to be made well? Get up. Get out of bed or off the couch or -- depending on how bad the day -- get up from the floor. (No judging. We’ve all done floor time literally or figuratively.) Time and again, no matter what the mean little voices are saying, Jesus leans down and says, You’re okay. It’s alright. Get up. Get going.
Just do the next thing.
The next thing might be a cup of coffee or a shower. It might be taking your medication. Practicing your meditation. Making the bed. Dressing for work. Maybe it’s reaching out for help or support…it could be anything, really. Just do the next thing. A next thing.
It gets better as you get going. YOU get better as you get going. You are…made well.
He has a soft spot for us, my friends. He knows we struggle. That’s why He shows up. Shows up every. damn. time.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they tell folks to “work the program.”
For some of us, THIS is the program.
Now. Rise, pick up your mat and walk.