Have you ever heard yourself making excuses? Have you failed at your New Year’s Resolutions? What excuses are you rehearsing? What have you given up for Lent that you haven’t truly given up?
This year my wife and I decided to try the Keto Diet, high fat, medium protein and low carbs. That means ordering cheese burgers without bread or french fries. That means going to the movies without popcorn. I do OK with burgers without bread, but going to the movies without popcorn is just insanity to me. A big tub of popcorn in the movie house is all part of the ritual. It’s just not the same!
This is what I tell myself as I choose to eat way more carbs and calories than my body needs. Eating popcorn at the movies throws my body out of the fat burning rhythm called ketosis. I have plenty of fat to burn, but I still make choices that are contrary to what I want. And so I rely on excuses, perversions of the truth, to justify cheating.
While in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples visit the pool of Bethesda, which means house of mercy. The pool was fed by gravity, channeled in from sources outside the city. It was a popular belief that when the surface of the water was stirred it possessed healing powers. The locals believed the stirring was from angels gracing the surface. Others believed Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, stirred the waters. In this environment Jesus happened upon a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years.
Many biblical interpreters would tell you that 38 years means exactly that. He was infirm for 38 years. But other interpreters see a symbolic meaning in the number. Israel wandered in the wilderness for 38 years. That is the time it took from their failure to trust God and enter the Promised Land at Kadesh-barnea, until all the men of that faithless generation had died. (Dt 2:14) Jesus refers to the people of his day as a faithless generation. (Mt 17:17; Mk 9:19; Lk 9:41) When he teaches the disciples about persevering in prayer he asks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8).
The faith of the paralyzed man is in question when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” It is a question, not simply for the man, but for us all. The King James Bible renders the question, “Wilt thou be made whole?” That’s a different kind of question. It’s one thing to wish to be healed of illness. It’s something very different to desire wholeness, the completion of ourselves.
How many times have you seen the sign that says, “Be patient with me. God isn’t finished with me yet”? There is a sense, in our journey through life, that we are not yet complete. We have not yet achieved the fullness of life that God promises. We are incomplete. The scriptures confirm this when the apostle writes, “…the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:6)
This idea that human beings are incomplete is represented in Jewish numerology, where the number 6 represents humanity and creation, and the number 7 represents Sabbath, completion and fullness. Humanity, while made in God’s image, is somehow incomplete without God. Only with God can we move toward completion and full satisfaction. Until then we will live infirm, incomplete and spiritually paralyzed.
Like the man lying on his mat, we make up excuses as to why we aren’t moving on toward wholeness in the Lord. What are the lies you tell yourself that keep you from living in accordance with the fullness of life that God gives? The paralytic said he had no one to carry him into the pool to be healed. Jesus doesn’t listen to his excuse. Instead he tells the man to rise up! It’s the same Greek word used to describe resurrection, when Jesus rose from the tomb.
Jesus told a grieving Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
So here we are, resting on our excuses, paralyzed on a bed of lies, confronted by the Master who asks us, “Do you desire to be made whole? Do you believe?” He who exercises the power of resurrection says, “Rise up!” Rise up from your bed of lies and excuses and walk into the abundant life that the Lord came to give.