Do You Really Want to Get Well?

The first time I came across the passage in John 5, I felt slightly irritated.

Afterwards Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish religious holidays. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was Bethesda Pool, with five covered platforms or porches surrounding it. Crowds of sick folks—lame, blind, or with paralyzed limbs—lay on the platforms (waiting for a certain movement of the water, for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and disturbed the water, and the first person to step down into it afterwards was healed). One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew how long he had been ill, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” (John 5:1-6 TLB)

The man had been incapacitated for thirty-eight years. Nearly four decades. Think about that. I wanted to scream, “Of course he wants to get well!”

Because Jesus never wastes words or relies on sarcasm, I knew he wasn’t asking a rhetorical question.

I’ve now been following Jesus for the same number of years that the paralytic sat waiting for the healing waters to be stirred. Because I have suffered from chronic health issues for more than half of those years, I find myself returning to Christ’s interaction with the paralytic again and again.

I’ve wondered what Jesus was going after by asking Do you want to be well? Wasn’t it obvious? Why else would he position himself within reach of a possible cure? Why wouldn’t he have given up twenty years ago?

The Greek word for well (v 6) actually means whole. What if Jesus was asking, Do you want to be completely healed or will you be satisfied with the mere appearance of healing?

The appearance of healing is much easier. All of us can force our mouths to arc upwards when asked how we’re doing and confidently respond with the ever-vague but mostly convincing Fine thanks. And you? 

Wholeness is harder to come by. In order to be whole, I have to see my brokenness, be grieved by it, admit my sins, and engage in the life-long process of pursuing holiness. Becoming whole is not a spectator sport.

Unlike the paralytic, I have certainly not been lying around waiting for an angel to stir the healing waters. In my attempts to get well, I’ve confessed my sin, visited countless doctors (mainstream and off-the-charts alternative), done years of PT, and radically altered my diet (eliminating gluten, dairy, carbs, and sugar). I’ve gone to conferences and read books. Despite all of my efforts, I still can’t bike for more than an hour, struggle to get sufficient sleep, and totally understand why some folks become addicted to opioids. I have seen some tangible improvement, but it would be a stretch to say I’ve been healed.

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A few verses later in the gospel of John, we read the post-script to Jesus’s initial interaction at Bethesda. He finds the paralytic in the temple and says, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” Full stop. Many well-meaning church folks have insinuated that my continued struggles are the direct result of unconfessed sin. I am not wanting to lay that heavy burden on anyone. Never-the-less, that rebuke unnerves me.

I wish that Jesus had named the paralytic’s sin as passivity. That way, I could smugly dismiss his rebuke because it does not apply to me. But what if Jesus was intentionally vague for the direct purpose of challenging everyone to go deeper? Am I, like the paralytic, focusing on my muscles and joints being restored so that I can freely move—or do I want true wholeness?

The healing that Jesus offers looks quite different than what we pray for and is typically interminably slow. I imagine that the paralytic wanted to walk, get a job, and meaningfully engage in life. Sometimes, my cries to the Lord center on simply sleeping through the night. While I believe that Jesus wants this for me too, I also believe that He wants so much more.

He wants me to wait on Him and when He asks me to get up, He expects me to believe that in Him, I can. He wants me to be free from my fears, my self-hatred, and my tendency to despair. He wants me to be truly whole. After 38 years, that’s what I want too. And yes, I’m willing to stop sinning and do whatever it takes to get there.

Dorothy Greco

Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful. She writes about the intersection faith and contemporary culture, relationships, parenting, leadership, and race for many publications including Christianity Today, Relevant, Biola University, InterVarsity’s The Well, and many more. You can find more of Dorothy’s writing on her site or by following her on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Oh this was an exceptionally wonderful read. Thank you for challenging me to think about this. Wow.

    • Quanny, thank you for reading and for taking the time to respond. Many blessings.

  • You’ve handled this with such grace, Dorothy. There’s so much we don’t understand about the words of Jesus, about the connection between body and soul, about healing and waiting — and yet so often we’re willing to settle for the loudest answer in the room instead of waiting to hear His voice.

    • Thank you Michele. And I agree. There is so much mystery in Scripture.

  • Dorothy, this passage has unnerved me also and your insight is helpful – whole vs the mere appearance. Thank you so much for this!

    • Thanks for reading and for letting me know it had some resonance for you. May we all get the full measure of healing that He has for us!!

  • Healing or wholeness? Healing seems the easier choice, the quick fix and the one we grab for willing to consider the other for another time. When we’re well, perhaps? Thank you for pointing out the deeper way, the complete healing.

    • Yes, that is the issue isn’t it? Wholeness takes oh so much work and time and effort and patience. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Thank you for pointing out that Jesus is speaking of wholeness here. As someone with chronic illness, the question of “do you want to be well?” almost seems cruel. But wholeness can happen without healing, they are not the same, and that points away from illness=sin. And seeking wholeness is a different journey.