“Do you want to be healed?”—John 5:6, ESV
When we read in the Christian Scriptures about Christ as a physician and healer, most of us imagine a miracle worker or magician, someone who might be invoked to intervene in order to solve problems. We envision a deus ex machina—a mechanical or metaphysical figure who reaches out of the heavens to alleviate tragedies and dispel controversies.
Such a perception, however, contradicts the image portrayed in the Gospels. In almost every healing miracle, Jesus first seeks to elicit acknowledgment of the circumstances that require change or demand remedy. Despite his express mission to “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover the sight of the blind and liberate the oppressed” (Luke 4:18), he persistently underlines the prerequisite of “longing” and “desire” for the gift of “mending” or “healing.”
Who could possibly not yearn or thirst for healing? Christ’s question “Do you want to be healed?” applies to the personal as well as the public challenges that go to the core of our relationship with God, others and ourselves. Who has not prayed for a child to be cured, for a friend’s survival of cancer or for recovery from traumatic abuse? Christ’s words in John 5:6 are addressed to a paralyzed man, who patiently and persistently awaited heavenly healing beside a pool in Bethesda for 38 years. The healing challenge in the public sphere proves equally daunting. Who would not dream of a world where peace and justice prevail, poverty and suffering are overcome, and the earth’s resources are fairly shared?
Missing from these challenges is a frequently overlooked aspect of Christ’s healing miracles. What is of paramount importance in Christ’s ministry of miracles is not simply the conclusion or culmination of healing the suffering, but rather his eagerness and determination to convince those whom he encounters that he is feeling their suffering.
Are we likewise able to feel the suffering in our world? Are we able to make compassionate choices for ourselves and for others? In our personal lives, do we accept responsibility for our anger and jealousy, our greed and arrogance, our addiction and anxiety? For such recognition is the only way that these can be healed. In the public arena, are we prepared to demonstrate our preferences and voice our choices? Do we dare to declare our priorities and struggle for policies on energy and food, war and injustice, global warming and biodiversity? After all, “where our treasure is, there will our heart also be” (Matthew 6:21).
When we are healed, Christ might urge us to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Nevertheless, another force continues to impel and pull us in directions contrary to our natural inclination and irreconcilable with our personal choice. St. Paul explains: “In my inmost self, I delight in God’s law; but I see within me another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin” (Romans 7:22–23). The reality is that we live in a world of spiritual tension and irreconcilable choices.
But do we at least want to be healed? In the face of global terrorism and political instability, are we committed to seeking common ground that unites Christians, Muslims and Jews, as well as people of every color and culture? Do we labor to create bridges wherever we encounter division and dissension? Do we favor dialogue whenever we confront prejudice and intolerance? Can we discern the face of our brother and sister—ultimately, the image and likeness of God—in our enemy as in the extremist, in the fundamentalist as in the fanatic?
Do we at least want to be healed? In the face of global warming and climate change, are we willing—or do we resist the responsibility—to adopt simpler lives and live more frugally? Can we truly believe that a century of pumping oil-fired pollution into the atmosphere will have no ramifications on our world and no consequences for our children? The Prophet Isaiah predicted: “They look, but choose not to see; they listen, but choose not to hear” (6:9–10). The world is a gift from God, offered for healing and sharing; it does not exist for exploitation or appropriation. The way we relate to God cannot be separated from the way we respect other people or the way we treat our planet.
So do we choose to heal? Because if not, we are denying our very nature as human beings. If we choose not to care, then we are no longer indifferent onlookers; we are in fact active aggressors. If we do not allay the pain of others, then we are contributing to the suffering of our world. If we do not choose to heal the suffering around us, then ultimately we do not “want to be healed.” Like Christ, then, it is our vocation and obligation to seek out the oppressed and to discern the consequences of our actions. If we do not work for the welfare of our world, then we do not genuinely desire to be well. In our efforts for healing and reconciliation, we must ask ourselves some difficult questions about lifestyles and habits. Just how prepared are we to sacrifice our excessive lifestyles—that is to say, when will we learn to say, “Enough!”—in order for others to enjoy the basic right to survive?
We are all surrounded by people in need, who are suffering. There are so many people around us without hope, who require healing. Do we see them? Do we choose to respond to them? Are we a healing presence and the healing hands of Christ? If we really want to be healed, then we must be prepared to accept a new way of living; we must be reintegrated into a way of sacrificial living; we must be restored into a way of compassionate living. Indeed, we must be willing to bring that healing and wholeness, that reconciliation and newness, into our surrounding society and planet. For this is surely the ultimate healing that we should want: the healing and transformation of the whole world.
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the Archbishop of Constantinople–New Rome and spiritual leader of the Orthodox churches worldwide. In 1997, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the U.S. Congress for advancing interfaith dialogue and environmental awareness.