Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The symbolism of Water and the Spirit is paramount in John. In the first chapter Jesus is baptized and we learn that Jesus baptizes uniquely with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He offers living water; Springs that lead to everlasting life; and we will never be thirsty again.
Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus will say,
“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The Gospel of John is a bit different than the others, we name the “Synoptic Gospels.” From Syn Optic: seeing all together; Matthew Mark and Luke are in synch. They share the same lens and share many of the same passages and teachings through Jesus’ parables.
The Gospel of John is set apart. The Gospel is thought to have been written considerably later, around the turn of the 1st to 2nd Century). And it is full of stories that don’t exist in the other gospels, but are often very intimate and detailed interactions with particular individuals.
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus meets the woman at the well. She is a Samaritan drawing water from the well of Jacob. Samaritans worshipped a variety of Gods including Yahweh, but not solely. And there is a lot of enmity between Jews and Samaritans. So Jesus startles her by asking for a drink. In this discourse (which is one of the longest conversations he has in the Bible) he tells her
“if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…
Everyone who drinks of this water [the well water] will be thirsty again…the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
The end of this story has her entire town converted - and the message they receive is that the true worship of God from now on will be through the Spirit and in truth.
So today we find ourselves in this short Gospel passage with a man who has been languishing by a healing pool of water. From our previous story with the Samaritan Woman we may already be wondering about this pool of water and its symbolism.
He has been there for thirty-eight years along with a multitude of other ill and paralyzed individuals. Our reading says many, but the word in Greek is actually a very great number. And I believe this is important because Jesus sees him in this great crowd. Not only does he see him, but he knows him. He knows he’s been there a long time. Jesus knows him, yet the man does not know Jesus.
He has waited so very close to what he believes would be a source of healing, yet with no ability nor assistance over all of these years to reach what it is he seeks. Jesus suddenly speaks to him and heals him.
Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” He answers him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made well?”… could just as easily be: What are you seeking here? “What are you seeking in this pool of water?”
This healing pool could be a metaphor for so many ideas and obstacles to our journey with God. This man is stuck. The World tells us that competition is the only way to move ahead. He has been looking for the balm of life in the wrong place.
What obstacles hinder us from seeking the The Spirit of Truth? Many of us here spent time away from Christian community. Once we become re-immersed in we can look back and more easily see what those great distractions were.
And sometimes the distractions from God are illness, real and debilitating and not simply a metaphor. “Bad things happen to good people” - and in our distress we can turn to other comforts, even delusions, for many years before we are able to begin walking a path toward physical, emotional and spiritual healing. That is real.
In our story, Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk. This is a healing that is infused with the metaphor for walking one’s path toward God. I do not see this man’s answer as simply an ungrateful complaint, rather: the reality of what we come up against in life: real illness, real desperation and real yearning.
Jesus’ question can be taken at face value: not as a challenge, but rather a compassionate and loving response to someone he sees sitting in front of him suffering. Someone who is stuck.
Sometimes it takes another to see us for who we are: to ask us directly what it is that we really want and need. When someone meets us in this way, it moves us to look inside: to probe our very own depths. That is the beginning of spiritual awakening. It is what Jesus offers to this man, to the Samaritan Woman, and to so many others.
“Spiritual awakening is not about knowing more, but about knowing more deeply” …Episcopal Priest and author Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “as we enter the path of [spiritual] transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning.”
Our yearning helps open the door to wonder. And our prayer life becomes our teacher and comforter. As Jesus said, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."
This man did not know God, yet he responds, he moves. He has been seen and he begins to walk… in a new way.To be made well is to be made whole, to uncover our authentic selves, where life springs like a font.
The Question Jesus asks,
“Do you want to be made well?”
inspires us to ask ourselves:
Who am I? …
What are you seeking?
What are you yearning for?
And Where are you looking?
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations. (Psalm 67)