In John 5, Jesus notices a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years, lying near the Bethesda pool, which apparently was rumored to have healing powers for the first person who could enter the water when it was stirred by an angel.
Jesus approaches this man and asks him, “Do you want to get well?”
What a question! The man answers, “I don’t have anyone to put me in the waters when they are stirred up… someone always gets there ahead of me.”
In other words, “Yes! I’d love to get well. But I am blocked from pursuing the only way I know to get well. I am excluded from ‘getting well’ according to how I ‘know’ it works.”
I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t say, “I’ll help you get into the water.” Instead, he simply says, “Get up! Take up your mat and walk!” As the man responds to this command, he is healed, takes up his mat, and walks.
Jesus doesn’t help him get into the water, or recruit some friends to help him get into the water. Instead, he bypasses the whole system of healing as it has been established and invites the man to look to him for healing.
I read this the other day and wondered how much of my prayer life consists of trying to get Jesus to help me into the water. I have a way I “know” my healing will come. I “know” what flourishing looks like and try to recruit God to help me get there. “Sure, I’d love to get well, God, but look at all these obstacles in my way! Look at these challenges I can’t do anything about!” And so I pray and wait for God to remove the obstacles to my healing.
But what would happen if I simply looked to Jesus and opened my imagination to a completely different way of seeing the whole situation? What if the things I think are obstacles to my flourishing aren’t anything of the sort? What if I’m so locked into the “way I know things are” that I’m unable to hear Jesus telling me to get up, pick up my mat, and walk?
What if I’ve pinned all my hopes on Jesus helping me get into the water, and I’m missing what he is in fact inviting me into? What if prayer could be more like attending to his voice, gazing upon his face, and listening for his surprising invitation?