In John 5:1-15 we read about when Jesus healed the paralytic by the Pool of Bethesda. This man was paralyzed for the last thirty-eight years and spent much of his time at the Pool waiting for the waters to heal him. Nevertheless, each time the waters were ripe for healing, the man’s paralysis prevented him from getting healed.
My paralysis was my sexual addiction. It started when I was 10-years old and held me captive for 25 years of my life. Every time that I thought I could break free, something pulled me back into my addiction. Ultimately that something was my own unwillingness to step out of the shadows of my addiction.
When Jesus asks the question “Do you want to get well?” he’s asking that man if he wants to finally get off of his mat. It sounds like such a simple question. Who wants to be stuck on a mat for decades? To everyone else, it looks like a miserable existence, yet to the man, this mat was his home for as long as he can remember. He knew every inch of the mat. The mat had been there for him in good times and bad. When it rained the mat reminded him that he could always count on it to be there even when everyone else abandoned him.
This is the struggle that an addict goes through in order to break free. The addiction looks terrible to everyone on the outside but to the addict it’s their comfort and medication in times of pain. In other words, it’s easier to continue to stay where you are rather then get up and walk on your own. Before Jesus will heal us, we have to truly desire to be free of what restricts us.
In John 5:7 the man replies, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.” I can’t count the times that I blamed my actions on others! In fact, the more that I blamed others, the easier it became to continue in my addiction.
Jesus’ next action isn’t to help the man into the pool. Rather he tells the man to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” When we start to break free from our sexual bondage, our first step is to try to run from our addictive behaviors, but inevitably we return to the desire to act out in our addictions again. In fact, the first year of recovery is often fraught with relapses and moments when we feel that we will never break free.
The Jews told the paralytic that it was against the law to carry his mat on the Sabbath. Often times, a recovering addict will turn to the church for help with his addiction, only to be told that he should just stop acting out and read the Bible more.
The reality is that even though we’ve started to walk, our mat sticks to our feet and trips us up. The only way we truly get free is by picking up mat and facing our addiction head-on. We must discover what is at the root of our addictive behavior, whether it’s past hurt and trauma or neglect. Piece by piece we turn over our brokenness to Jesus who heals us. Eventually Jesus comes back to us and reminds us of the importance to “stop sinning or something worse may happen” and we are able to share Jesus’ healing effect with others.