Thirty-eight years with lifeless limbs. Three decades of bodily affliction. Almost 14,000 days of not participating in life, love, or labor. Within eyesight is his one chance for liberation. Every morning they gather, the outcasts of humanity tossed aside like broken tools, because here they are considered broken, and dirty, and useless. Every morning they come, bearing lesions, mutations, blinded eyes, and the scars of tragedy and rejection. Every morning they congregate at the pool, the pool within his eyesight, for healing.
But as the waves begin to roll, as the uproar of desperate bodies pushing, scratching, and tearing at each other for the chance to be first, for the chance to be whole, reaches its chaotic climax, this paralytic man averts his eyes. It is too painful to watch the phenomenon of a mended life take place, again, before him. The shouts of elation from the fortunate recipient, dripping with new opportunities available only to the unimpaired, are like fingernails on a chalkboard. The sound of another’s joy serves to magnify his sorrow, for on his own it is impossible to reach the water.
“Do you want to be healed?”
Who would ask such a thing? But the face now in view is as serious as death, and this man had stopped to look at him directly, not through him like a colorless piece of glass.
“There is no one,” replies the paralytic “ who will carry me to the pool when the water is troubled.”
“Then rise,” says the stranger, “take up your pallet and walk.”
Here are two commandments of equal importance: Rise and walk.
If the story had ended differently (“You are healed, now stay right there”), I could justify being bathed in the restorative waters of baptism only to take back my place on the ground, contorting healthy limbs into the same broken and useless positions as before, refusing to stand or run. I would do well to grab hands with the ex-paralytic as he tromps triumphantly through town, oblivious to the judgments of society, yelling, “Jesus! It was Jesus who gave me back my life,” validating our gifts of wholeness by moving forward.
Salvation equals transformation, a total response to God. A hasty sign of the cross as I rush to meet my day, the attendance of services when its convenient, a flippant swallowing of the body and blood of Christ without trembling, without confessing, without believing in the miracle that it is, is like crawling on a treadmill heading nowhere. I am so tired, yet not any closer to deliverance from my same old sins. I’ve not changed because I expect that change should fall into my lap, just by snapping my fingers and saying the magic words. “Lord have mercy,” is but a meaningless expression, unless I’m willing to accept that mercy in whatever form He deems best. When I feel it: the sacrifice, the knots in my stomach as I hand my life over in faith, then I’ll begin to see progress, spurred on by the Holy Spirit: “Rise and Walk, Rise and Walk, Rise and Walk”
Do I want to be healed? It’s a legitimate question, because sometimes I honestly don’t know. I pray for this out of habit, while I cling to the floor, to what’s familiar– my empty request floating upwards, and then evaporating long before reaching its destination. Only when I despise this crippled existence will I find the discipline necessary to respond with my time, my desires, and my opened heart. When I am thankful, truly thankful, I will pick up my pallet and march, oblivious to the judgments of society. “Jesus!” I will shout without embarrassment or hesitation, “It was Jesus who gave me back my life!” Please… grab my hand, we’ll be stronger in numbers, and let’s pick up the pace toward Home.
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