5:1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes.

3 In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4/5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus is forever asking questions, often deeply challenging and sometimes troubling questions. But the question Jesus asks the man by the pool “called in Hebrew Bethzatha… who had been ill for thirty-eight years,” must be one of the strangest questions ever posed.

What could Jesus possibly have meant by asking a person who has been ill for thirty-eight years,

Do you want to be made well? (John 5:6)

It is important to be careful here to avoid any possible hint of blame, guilt or shame. People for the most part do not become ill due to some flaw in their choices or in their character. It is true, there are illnesses that may come about as a result of our behaviour. If I drink excessive amounts of alcohol for my entire adult life, I should not be surprised if I die from cirrhosis of the liver. But, even in such a tragic death, moral judgment has no place. Addiction is not a moral issue. But behaviour does have an impact on well-being.

The question Jesus asks this man is not intended to cast shame or imply guilt. But it does point to a deep and difficult truth. There may be times when we become so attached to our illness that it feels impossible to find our way to any kind of healing. It is tempting to create an identity out of our victimhood. “I am the one who has been hurt.” “I am the one who can’t … because of …” It may be within more limited parameters of some, and it may come at a different place for each of us, but somewhere along the line some measure of choice is available to everyone. Jesus wants this man to show-up for himself. He wants him to take an initiative towards his own healing, no matter how limited his capacity or his range of choice may be.

Jesus does not demand much from this man. All he looks for is an expression of desire to be well. How hard would it be to respond saying, “Yes, I long to be well”? But, as we will see, even this proves too much of a reach.

Are there any ways in which I might find some meagre solace in assuming an identify as the victim of forces beyond my control?

What happens when I become so attached to the hard things in my life that I begin to see them as the source of my identity?