In the fifth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, we find ourselves observing one of the more peculiar stories in the Holy Bible. We see Jesus in the city of Jerusalem at a pool, which is called Bethesda. At this pool, there is a building which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
Here a great number of sick people – blind, lame, and paralyzed – would wait for the water to move, for it was believed among the people that at certain intervals an angel from Heaven would come down into the pool and cause the waters to be disturbed. The first person to enter the water after the angelic disturbance was cured of any ailment from which he suffered.
As Jesus is walking by, He notices a man there who had been suffering from an illness which had lasted him thirty-eight years. Imagine being sick for thirty-eighty long years! As the man is lying there, the shadow of Our Lord falls upon him.
He looks up, and finds himself face to face with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (although he knows it not). As his eyes lock with those of Almighty God, Who is now clothed in flesh, God speaks to him and asks, “Do you want to be well again?”
Do you want to be well again? A man is sick and afflicted for thirty-eight long, miserable, and wretched years, and God confronts him with the question, “Do you want to be well again?” He doesn’t ask him, “Do you believe that I have the power to make you well again?” What the inquiring Sovereign of men’s souls wants to know is if this man wants to be well again.
This has to be one of the strangest questions one stumbles upon in the Bible. And yet, if we take a look at what takes place in the lives of far too many people in the world today, we can begin to understand why this question may have been posed by Our Lord.
The Agony of Freedom
In the societies of men, there exists an element that is more comfortable with impossibility than with possibility. This is because possibility forces us to move into action, whereas impossibility gives us a continued excuse for inaction. For this same reason freedom is more terrifying to some than imprisonment.
When freedom is before us, the sky is the limit as to what we can accomplish and achieve. This freedom forces us to move into action, to take responsibilities and risks, to make decisions, to do, and to become. Prison is much “safer,” because it places limits on us. Because of these limits, we now have an excuse for our inaction and/or low achievement.
There are those among us who do not wish to move away from any restrictions placed upon them because they feel much safer with them than having to face a world without them. They don’t want to be healed. Sick, they have an excuse for their inaction. But if they are healed, much more will be required of them. They will be expected to conquer, to achieve, and to become.
And let us not overlook the agnostics in our societies as well. It’s much more comfortable to be uncertain of the existence of God than to be convinced that He exists. Uncertain, the agnostic can live as he pleases, on his own terms, and according to his own whims. But once he comes to genuine faith, action will be required of him! He will be required to live according to the requirements of his newfound faith, as well as to the commands of his newfound God. He will be forced to change.
We have in our societies certain children who are quite unwilling to grow up. As long as they remain as a child, others can provide for them, do for them, and make decisions for them. No action or responsibility is required of them other than to receive from the hands of others and comply with their decisions.
But to grow up and have to enter the adult world will force him into action! It will force him to accomplish, to achieve, and to take risks. It will force him take over many responsibilities and to be the one who has to make the tough decisions from now on. And so, because of fear, he refuses to grow up and to fully enter into the adult world, for to do so will force him into action.
We have quite a few in our societies who are afraid to pursue higher education or to receive special training of any sort in order to develop a talent or cultivate a skill. As long as they remain uneducated or untrained, they have an excuse for their complacency, unemployment, or inactivity. It isn’t that they’re afraid of the education or training. What terrifies them is the open door that such may produce!
When doors open, one is expected to walk through them. This requires actions, even risks. This is terrifying. But when the door is closed, one feels safe, even absolved from his inaction. He grows comfortable with the closed door which stands before him and makes no effort to pry it open because as long as it is there, he has an excuse for inaction and low achievement.
As long as it’s closed, it is not his fault if he is remaining inactive and accomplishing nothing.
And so, we have in our societies a “crippled and paralyzed” element who prefer impossibility to possibility, imprisonment to freedom, sickness to healing, agnosticism and unbelief to true genuine faith, immaturity to maturity, ignorance to knowledge, and closed door to open doors because they are terrified of action and where that action may lead; they are terrified of what it will require of them.
Maybe… just maybe… the man who had been sick and afflicted for thirty-eight long, miserable, gut-wrenching, and soul-agonizing years wasn’t trying as hard as he ought in order to make it into those waters when they were disturbed and ready to heal. We’ll never know this, of course.
A Subtle Fear
But one does find it strange that of all the questions Our Lord could have asked this man, the one which He cast his way was, “Do you want to be well?”
As for me, if I had been by that pool, and I knew that healing and recovery would be mine if I could somehow make it into those waters, I don’t care who I would have had to mow down in Jesus’ name in order to take that “Nestea Plunge.”
If the alternative before me was to remain sick and afflicted for the rest of my life, I’d sink my teeth into the dirt and pull myself toward those healing waters in the same way a mountain climber sinks his mountain pick into the rock in order to pull himself up.
In this holy and penitential season of Advent, the Lord is calling many who may be reading these words to repentance of another sort. Usually, when we think of repentance, our minds drift to actions that lead to spiritual death. To be sure, God calls all men to repentance from sin.
But there is a repentance of fear, which leads to inaction, to which God is calling many who may now be reading this article – a fear which comes to us in so many clever disguises and which takes on so many different shapes and sizes – that one will not even be able to discern its presence except by the Spirit of Christ.
You must see that fear for what it truly is. It’s a plot, a ploy, and a diabolical scheme from Hell. It’s a subtle attack from the enemy of your soul to hinder you, cripple you, keep you from moving forward in God, and from achieving your full potential in Christ.
Whatever summons you have received from your Father in Heaven, whatever dream or desire He has placed within your heart, God is calling you to act on it! He is calling you to trust Him with it and to commit yourself to it! He is calling you to get up, ditch that “sleeping mat” to which you have been clinging, and walk!
Don’t Hold Back
Is it possible that those who have been deceived and have rejected Christ in order to embrace the New Age movement know more about certain issues than those who belong to the Light? Shakti Gawain, a popular New Age author, once made the following statement: “Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, a loss of power, a spiritual deadness.” Does this not describe the condition of many who may now be taking in these words?
You’re drained and unhappy. You’re frustrated, restless, angry, and discontent. All the pills, health drinks, exercise, and sleep cannot cure what ails you, for God Himself has seen to this. Your malady comes from within, not from without. Your God is calling you to take certain paths. He is calling you to make certain decisions. He is calling you to perform certain works. He has planted certain dreams and desires within your heart for the glory and advancement of His unconquerable Kingdom, and you refuse to cooperate.
You have succumbed to the enemy of your soul and have shrunk back in fear, afraid of the action that will be required on your part, the responsibility, the commitment, and the fear of failure and being wrong, and so you have remained immobile to the immense relief and joy of Hell.
Your “sleeping mat” has become such a part of your life that you are now afraid to be parted from it. If you part from it, you will be forced to walk through the door which the nail-scarred hand of your Beloved is summoning you. This battle, this inner conflict, is now wearing on you. It’s taking its toll. It’s growing worse.
The physical body may be immobile, but the soul within you is not. It writhes in agony. It kicks, pushes, and pinches you from within and will not abate until you bring it to that place of complete and total surrender to which it is now being called. No pill, no medical treatment, and no amount of physical rest will relieve what only repentance will cure.
God is calling you to that repentance during this holy season of Advent. There are mountains to climb, works to be done, lessons to learn, and obstacles to be overcome, and you’re holding back.
Brothers and sisters, let us listen to what the Spirit is saying to our hearts, each and every single one of us. Our Father in Heaven is calling to us action. He is calling us to decisiveness. If we desire to give to Him the obedience which He demands, we must repent of our inaction and our indecisiveness. We must let go of the “sleeping mats” to which we cling. He is summoning us to service, to higher levels in Him, and to a greater level of holiness.
We must acknowledge His supremacy in our lives, let go of our fears, and heed His specific call upon our lives, whatever that call may be, and wherever it may send us. We must let go of our feeble excuses and cozy rationalizations and give to the Master all that He is asking of us this during this holy Advent season. It is time to repent! It is time to take up our “sleeping mats, cast them aside once and for all, and walk for the glory of our God!
It is time to accomplish, to achieve, to make decisions, and to take risks! It is time to conquer and to advance! Let Hell be immobilized and tremble in fear, not you, in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells, and who have received the incomparable privilege of being able to address Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Almighty God as “Father!”
If we fail, if we refuse to heed the Master’s call, how are we unlike the man who took his Master’s property which was entrusted to him, but then dug a hole in the ground and buried it because he was terrified to take action and put that money to sacred use? It was much easier to spend his days bored and restless on his “sleeping mat” before a buried treasure than it was to cast that mat aside, take his Master’s wealth, and use it for His Master’s glory.
What a terrible fate was his when his expectant Master returned and saw that he had acted on his fear rather than on his obedience to his Master’s call. “You wicked and lazy servant!” rebuked the Master. “Take this good-for-nothing servant, and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth!”
What a horrible fate! What a wretched fate, yet one that did not have to be his if only he had refused to listen to Fear.
So many people never do anything with their lives for fear of being wrong. They remain immobile for fear of taking action. But in order to accomplish and to achieve for the Master’s glory, we must lose our fear of being wrong. We must step out into the unknown and take the chance. If necessary, we must do this afraid, but do it we must!
If we wait until fear leaves before we ever step out and do anything for Christ, we’ll never accomplish, never achieve, and never become. Do it afraid, but do it! You will find that when you step out and do the very thing that you were afraid to do, the fear that had you in its grip will become disarmed. It will dissipate, fizzle out, and be no more.
People who achieve in Jesus’ name do so, not because they have more talent than others, but because they have faith, and trust, and audacity!
For the love of Christ and His Kingdom, dare to be one of them! In this holy and penitential season of Advent, the court of Heaven is summoning you to stand up, step out, and dare to become one of them!