In Tribe, Sebastian Junger points out that in our nation’s history, there were plenty of English people who for one reason or another became part of Native American tribes. What might be shocking is to learn that when English people acclimated to tribal life, they almost never wanted to go back to colonial life. Even if they were prisoners of war, and they were liberated by the English, once they got a taste of tribal community, they didn’t want to go back. Interestingly, the opposite almost never happened, Native Americans who wanted to become English. Further, Native Americans who were prisoners of war and even acculturated to English culture always wanted to be back with their tribe. Junger’s point is that communal life in the tribe is deeply supportive and life-giving. My point is a bit different. In Tribe, I was reminded that there are other ways of life that we might think are backwards or even wrong, but they might not only be okay, some just might be better.
That reality seems to figure largely in the next miracle that we’re studying this week. In John chapter 5, verses 1-6, we read,
“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
I love that. Jesus asks him if he wants to get well. You might think, “Of course the invalid man would want to get well.” But that’s not always the case. As awful as it might seem, the man had a made a life for himself. 38 years. In 38 years, you can not only get used to a certain way of life, you can really come to enjoy it, to find satisfaction in it. Even if it is not the kind of life that society and culture say is the good life. But society and culture don’t have the corner on the market of the good life, do they? Actually, let me rephrase that question this way, “We don’t have the corner on the market of the good life, do we?”
We American can assume that we know what is best for people. That our way of life is the best way, and of course everyone would want to live our way. We can be especially guilty of importing our way of life all over the world. But not always. I’m not saying the American Dream is all wrong. I’m just saying, we need to be humble about our way of life. Not everyone wants it, and you and I just might be surprised about how other ways of life can be fulfilling and lead to flourishing. That’s precisely what Junger talks about in his book, as I mentioned above.
Jesus knows the human tendency to become accustomed to a way of living. Jesus knows that sometimes one person’s intention to help results in hurt. So he first asks the man, “Do you want to get well?” Jesus shows humility here, not just barging into this guy’s world and changing things around, assuming that he knows better. Certainly, if there was anyone who could say, “I know better,” it was Jesus. But Jesus shows us the way of humility by asking a question. Jesus was a master questioner. Asking the man, “Do you want to get well?” brings dignity and ownership of the solution to the one being helped. It’s a beautiful teaching as we observe the heart of Jesus in asking the question.
What does the man want? We’ll find out in the next post.