I still see him sitting there in the same spot day after day on that street in La Ceiba, his ankle and foot extended for all to see, deep purple and grotesquely swollen. His cup lay close by to catch the coins and occasional bills from those who gave either out of compassion or pity. No matter. The important thing was to get it filled. That's how he lived. Or better put, how he survived.
I don't know a lot about medicine, but from pictures I've seen, I believe the gentleman probably had a really bad case of the gout, a form of arthritis and very painful. I've no doubt, it hurt to even look at it. Nor do I pretend to know how debilitating it might have been, I've not lived with it. But that beggar sat on that same street with his cup the entire time I lived in Honduras, always with his leg protruding outwards, everyday drawing the passersbys' attention to it, to him. I wonder if he ever wished that his life was different, if there was ever a time he wanted to be well. Or did he prefer this life on the street that drew on the sympathies of others and guaranteed an income, as little as it might have been.
I've been reflecting on this getting well quite a bit lately, in part because there are so many people in my life who aren't. Jesus once confronted a lame man at the pool of Bethsaida. Supposedly it was believed that at certain times the waters had supernatural powers to heal, but the man came up with some excuse about nobody ever being there to help him. I find that odd. He'd been crippled for 38 years, many of which I'm sure he had spent in that very spot. So in all that time no one ever offered to help him get into the water? Hard to believe. And then comes the clincher, the all-important quesiton. Jesus has the audacity to ask him, "Do you want to be well?"
Seems like a no-brainer doesn't it. Of course he wants to be well! But no one understands the human mind better than the Creator and His question was legitimate. Did the lame man really want to be well or did he prefer the security of knowing that his condition would at least get him a little sympathy and something to eat? But something changed when he met the Son of God. Strength came back into his limbs and he walked away from that place, no longer a beggar.
I see the ugly, purple swelling in some lives and I want to shake them and say, "Just go for it! You can do this! You can be well!" But the drive, the motivation to be free of their sickness just isn't there. With some it's bodies that have been neglected or abused. Sometimes it's food or alcohol or drugs that has a hold of them. And they know what they should do, they'll even acknowledge it, then constantly berate themselves when they don't.
Sometimes it's emotional, hanging on to things of the past, harboring stuff like anger and resentments and unforgiveness. This is the sickness that concerns me most of all, because it eats away like a cancer at the spirit. I know a woman who is so bitter towards everyone, I suspect there will be a great sigh of relief when they close the cover of her casket and lower her into the ground. That is if anyone is there to see it. How tragic to live a life with so much vitriol, despising and hating everyone who has ever offended you. I read a true story recently about a circus pony that was retired and sent to live out the rest of its years in a lovely pasture. But the animal refused to venture out into the lush, verdant field. All it would do was stay in one small area of that pasture and walk in circles. The analogy is simple. Hanging on to the past prevents us from enjoying the freedom of kicking up our heels and enjoying the pleasures that God has in abundance for us.
Jesus asked, "Do you want to be well?" There was a time in my life that I wouldn't have thought to ask that question of someone. But I'm so tired of knowing way too many people who are sick and have simply resigned themselves to the fact. I see them in my neighborhood, among my friends, in the churches we've pastored, in my own family. So now I'm asking, Do you really want to be well? Or does the hurt and resentment and refusal to forgive supersede your desire to be free of it all? To be truly well, free to explore and enjoy all that God has for you. Or maybe you just don't feel strong enough to fight the things that are controlling the body that God made under certain specifications, uniquely for you and intended for your enjoyment. And please don't use the excuse that there's no one out there to help you. The man at the pool used that excuse too. But that fell flat when he was confronted by the all-powerful Son of God who can do anything in a life.
Jessica Hicks is a young mom with a couple of children. She was recently diagnosed with Non- Hodgkins Marginal Zone Lymphoma. Sounds scary, huh? It is. She is still early in her journey towards wellness. But recently she posted a passage from Isaiah 40 on her facebook page. This is just a portion of it: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." If you were to look her up, you'd find her profile picture has her in a headscarf, her young daughter next to her, her head covered with one to match. Jessica is beautiful, radiant, her countenance revealing a strength that comes from Someone beyond herself. There's no doubt here. She will do what it takes to be well again.