The Very Reverend Dr Christopher Hardwick, Vicar of Tavistock, Gulworthy and Brent Tor writes:
Healing into Trust
“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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?” The sick man answered 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 said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” (John 5:2-9)
We can picture the scene at the pool in Bethzatha, and the desperately plaintive cry of the man by the pool: “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up”. This is the cry of someone who is deeply alone, who has had no friend to help him for 38 years – we see how easy it is for suffering, and sickness, and weakness, to marginalize and isolate people. But why does Jesus choose this particular man, above all others at the pool, to heal? Perhaps he is more seriously ill or has been there longer. Or perhaps it is this person who reflects something of Jesus’s own destiny. In a world where everything is given to the quick and the strong, surely this man, who cries out of darkness and desperation “I have no one”, reflects the fallen and broken world with which Jesus finally identifies when he cries from the Cross “Why have you forsaken me?” In the world of rivalry and competition around that small healing pool in Jerusalem, we see someone on the margins of life – without hope, and in need – yet overlooked by those around him. There is always someone before him. But into this situation comes Jesus. And Jesus heals him, and in doing so breaks the vicious and remorseless logic of competition and marginalization. Now the last shall be first. It is pure gift. In this healing miracle we glimpse the intimacy of the God who is close to us and who brings hope to all who suffer. This intimacy and healing is pure gift, and it is closer to us than anything we can imagine.
Jesus brings healing and wholeness to a person who seeks his help. But how do we understand God’s healing in our own lives? In a very real sense our lives are a mystery. We can be hurt, we can suffer, and in so many different ways. In the story we have heard it was when the waters were “stirred up” that the sick were healed. Here the earlier translation of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is better, for there the verse reads: “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled” (RSV Jn 5:7). Similarly, in our own lives, it is often when we are anxious or troubled that we can be healed – even though we do not know the way in which God will do this. Jesus asked the man by the pool “do you want to be healed?” and he indicated his willingness to be helped – his willingness to place his trust in Jesus – and he was healed. In a similar way when we, or those for whom we pray, are troubled or suffer in any way, we are invited to place our trust in Jesus, to seek his help and his blessing – to let his love into the most painful places of our lives – whether in body, mind or spirit. It is then we may begin to experience healing.
But what does this really mean? We may feel in some way that God has let us down, that we have been forsaken, that God really isn’t at work in our lives. With all the pressures and pains of life a God who cares for us, who nurtures us, who heals, who wants us to be fully perfected, may seem very distant – and difficult, if not impossible, to believe in or trust. I think we need to begin with an affirmation. We need to affirm that God not only creates us, but sustains us throughout our lives. We need also to affirm that we live in God’s world, in his kingdom, and that Jesus is alive and active. In the language of the church, we need to affirm that Jesus Christ redeems us – that he will make us perfect in a way that we cannot now fully understand. It is at this point in our thinking that our reasoning and rational thought are left behind, and faith takes over. Because what lies ahead for us is a mystery. Our healing, our being made whole, our perfection, is a healing into trust. Trust in God. Although we may not always realise that we are slowly changing, God nurtures us and sustains us. As we journey in his kingdom he is perfecting us – in mind, body and spirit.
This is our hope; it is our healing into trust.