Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 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?” (John 5:1-6)
I don’t know about you, but I feel like (at first glance at least) this is Jesus at one of his most insensitive moments, because the question he asks the disabled man is borderline offensive,
“Sir, do you want to get well?”
Because, who wouldn’t want to get well?
A little less than a year ago, I was in our garage. And one thing you have to understand is that, up until about a year ago, our garage had old-school garage doors–solid wood doors, no electric garage door opener, and instead of cables running through a pulley system that made it possible for me to lift the door up and down, there were two, rusty chains.
My wife and I had just returned from a nice night out, I had gotten out of the car, lifted the garage door, pulled the car into the garage, got out of the car, and (as usual) began to pull down my garage door. But then something happened: about a quarter of the way down the door got stuck. It wouldn’t budge. And as I looked up, I realized why. The aforementioned rusty chain that fed into the pulley system had come off the pulley.
So what do I do?
Well, thinking I was superman or something, I decided to climb our little six foot ladder, reach my hand toward the rusty chain and pull–all in an attempt to get the chain back onto the pulley.
Maybe you know where this is going.
After giving the chain a pull, it violently snapped back onto the pulley. Unfortunately, in the process, the slack chain tightened and grabbed my pinkie, ring, and middle fingers of my right hand. Before I knew what had happened, a lightning bolt of pain radiated down my arm. Iit quickly began to dawn on me that I had a really good shot of losing three of my fingers. So I did the only thing I could think of: I screamed for my wife. She had already gone inside and had no idea about the carnage that was taking place on the other side of the door.
Upon seeing me in my state, I think it dawned on both of us that there was nothing we could do, and for a moment, I just stood there waiting for all three fingers to pop off. But before that moment happened, in a last-ditch desperation move, I reached for the chain and attempted to somehow generate enough slack to allow my fingers to slip out. It was a hopeless attempt at rescue, because I was betting that I’d be able to lift the massive, solid wood door by the rusty chain with only one arm.
If you don’t believe in miracles, listen, I’m telling you, they’re real. Without near the effort it should have required,, I was able to lift the door just enough to slide my fingers out. When they escaped the chain’s grip (bearing a mild resemblance to ground beef) I confirmed that they were all somehow still moveable.
At that moment, while breathing the welcome air of relief, I also understood that a visit to the ER was inevitable–because rusty chains don’t pair well with having skipped my last scheduled tetanus shot.
As I recall those gruesome moments of sheer desperation, I imagine Jesus approaching my ladder and calmly asking me: “Do you want to be well?”
And yet, here’s the thing: before starting my role with Healing Haiti, I had the honor of serving as a pastor for 15 years. One of the more startling realities I learned as a pastor is that the old saying, “you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is often very true.
You can encourage people and share wisdom about the steps they could take to overcome whatever situation or issue they’re facing. But at the end of the day, for some people, the allure of the familiar (even when the familiar is sheer agony) keeps them from reaching out for a healing that is within their grasp.
Because, there’s familiarity in the pain, the dysfunction, the addiction. And, there’s also an understanding that healing will eliminate excuses that can stand in the way of taking responsibility.
Sometimes it feels safer to remain sick, angry, hurting, or addicted.
And maybe at this point you’re wondering what all this has to do with Haiti. Because, I mean, this is the Healing Haiti blog, right?
So let’s go there, shall we?
And maybe you already think you know where I’m going with this. Perhaps you’re thinking:
Ok, I get it, Haiti is like the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. And so this is Haiti’s problem. This is why that nation seems perpetually mired in chaos. Maybe Haiti just doesn’t want to get well?
But, listen, after spending the past 3 ½ years in my role with Healing Haiti, after, visiting weekly with our Haitian staff, traveling to Haiti half a dozen times since the beginning of 2020, I’ve come to realize that maybe Haiti isn’t the paralyzed man sitting on the edge of the pool waiting for a miracle…maybe it isn’t Haiti being approached by Jesus and being asked, “Do you want to be well?”
I think that maybe we are.
What if we’re the ones who are sick and in need of Jesus’s miracle-wielding power to change our understanding of what it means to truly help people who live in different parts of our planet, especially in difficult, under-resourced places like Haiti
Because, for a long time, our misguided attempts to fix Haiti have only left it more broken.
Let me give you just one example of what I mean (there are many, by the way).
In the 1990’s, a certain U.S. President who had previously been governor of Arkansas, looked across the Caribbean and saw what many world leaders also saw–Haiti was in the midst of a quickly growing food crisis. People were (just as they are today in Haiti) starving to death.
So this president came up with a two-fold plan, one that (in his mind) would both throw a bone to his home state of Arkansas, while theoretically turning the tide of starvation in Haiti. He subsidized rice farmers in Arkansas (which is where half of all US rice is grown) to ship vast amounts of rice to Haiti. The rice was paid for on the US side and so, within months, free rice flooded Haiti’s ports.
Good plan, right? Not really.
Geopolitical Strategist Peter Zeihan explains the subsequent fallout:
First, reliably cheaper food that arrived more reliably largely destroyed Haitian agriculture, both in terms of production directly and in the preservation of the skill sets required to reboot that production at a future date. Second, the sudden collapse of livelihoods throughout a largely agrarian system contributed to the [clear-cutting] of the country’s forests as the increasingly destitute population sought to build rafts and paddle to the United States…” (Zeihan, Peter. The End of the World Is Just The Beginning, )
In a place like Haiti, a place that for decades now has been dependent on U.S. food (and other) exports, our good intentions have perpetuated a culture in which many Haitians have lost the motivation and, over time, even the ability to experience the dignity of providing for themselves. Which led another U.S. president to refer to Haiti as a “S&*$#hole”
Haitians don’t need another decade of handouts, they need a hand-up.
I love how the passage from John 5 ends, after Jesus asks the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be well?”
John 5:7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
John makes it clear that there are other folks waiting beside the pool, desperate for a healing. Which begs the question, “Why?”. What’s so special about this particular pool?
Two thousand years ago this particular pool (the pool of Bethesda) was some sort of pagan shrine where it was believed a mysterious god would periodically show-up and “disturb” the water. And at that point, it became a mad dash to the edge of the pool, because apparently the first person who made it to the water got healed. This is a problematic cynical for a paralyzed man, since, you know…paralyzed people don’t tend to move very quickly.
But it was all a scam. Here’s what was actually happening:
As we all know, water tends to flow downhill from higher elevations, which in the case of the pool of Bethesda (still located in the center of Jerusalem), meant that rain falling at higher elevations just north of the city, flowed downhill, eventually funneling through a hidden pipe that fed the pool.And when water rushed into the pool, guess what happened to the water that was already in the pool?
That’s right. It became “disturbed”.
And so Jesus cuts through the garbage that kept this poor paralyzed man pinning his hopes on a lost cause. After the man explains his hopeless situation, Jesus offers a simple invitation:
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
And then, a miracle: “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”
Here’s what’s crazy about this situation: .John tells us that, not only is this man paralyzed, but he’s been in his condition for 38 years. Try to imagine what those 38 years did to this man. He had become so used to depending on others, so desperate for what scraps of support able-bodied folks cast his way. His muscles would have been beyond atrophied. And suddenly, this Rabbi shows up, asks him if he would like to be made well, before commanding him to do something he hadn’t done in half a lifetime:
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
What’s even more remarkable is that we learn later on in John 5 that this man had never even heard of Jesus. In other words, there’s no evidence in his mind that Jesus could perform a miracle that would transform the man’s life.
And yet, when Jesus says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” he makes a courageous decision…
And he walks.
The history of Haiti’s growing dependency on US exports has created a situation in which many Haitians have lost sight of what they’re truly capable of. In other words, the way we’ve chosen to try and help the Haitian people has actually robbed them of the dignity of being able to discover and live out their God-given purpose.
And so, we need to ask ourselves, Do we want to get well?
In other words, are we willing to let go of our short-sighted, often self-serving intentions that can often motivate our concept of “missions” and dare to believe that what we’ve witnessed God do in and through us is just as possible for the people of Haiti?
When we trust what Jesus can do in us and in the Haitian people, we’ll be best positioned to see God’s miracles unleashed. That’s what we’re seeing in Haiti. Over the course of the 17 years we’ve been serving two of the most desperate communities in the country–Titanyen and Cite Soleil–we’ve learned through trial and error. And time and again, we’ve seen the people of Haiti claim their innate, God-given potential when invited to: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
Now, does Haiti have its issues? Absolutely. Are Haiti’s leaders in-part responsible for what’s gone wrong in Haiti? For sure.
But at the same time, I believe we need to recognize that sometimes our good intentions may not necessarily be God’s intentions. Sometimes our plans can keep people paralyzed, even as the Holy Spirit is whispering,
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk”