They’re paralyzed with fear
Imagine a story where Jesus comes up to someone who’s been an invalid for 38 years and who’s been waiting for who-knows-how-long at a place known for its healing properties — and the first question Jesus asks him is: “Do you want to get well?”
That’s the exact question Jesus asks according to a brief tale told in the Gospel of John. There, the story is set at a pool in Jerusalem where hundreds of disabled people are waiting because the local belief is that when the “water is stirred,” anyone who gets in will be healed of their infirmities. (John 5:2-8)
There are many ways in which this is different than the numerous other healing stories told in the canonical gospels. Whereas in most of those the person comes to Jesus for healing, here Jesus picks this lone man out of a crowd of the needy all around him and goes up to this one man in particular.
Then this man who’s been waiting for almost four decades to get better doesn’t answer Jesus’ probing question directly as one might expect with: “You bet, I want to be healed! Can you help me?”
Instead, he gives two excuses as to why he’s been stuck so long in his condition — no one will help him, and he is beaten to the pool each time by someone else who “goes down ahead of me.”
Jesus, it says, responds to this kind of victim talk by telling him to do something. Unlike in other healing stories, Jesus does nothing outwardly — no hastily made salve, no words of healing, no reference to the man’s faith, no encouragement or words of commiseration. We’d have to read any of that into this story for ourselves because the account wants us to hear Jesus saying nothing more than:
Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.
And that’s it.
In spite of all of his excuses, in spite of all the time the man spent stewing there about his victimhood, the story says this worked: “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”
And that’s the end of the entire episode. The Gospel goes on to other things immediately. Nothing further is said about this man or this incident at all.
But what was that unique question put to that one man in the huge crowd about? Wasn’t it obvious that he was there to be healed? Why else would he hang around at a pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem that legend said had healing properties?
Do our haters want to be healed?
Or was the point of that one question that’s passed on here in this Gospel to ask of all those who hear or read it and who need any kind of healing whether they really want to change, want to be healed from all that holds them back, want to give up their identity as a victim of circumstances or a victim of others, want to adjust their well-worn, comfortable beliefs, want to give up what they rely upon to not face their own emotional issues, want to give up their prejudices or reliance for meaning on discriminating against others whom they prefer to blame for their circumstances?
It’s clear in this story that although its readers are supposed to take it for granted that Jesus is responsible for any healing, Jesus will not let this man remain in the victim role.
The account as it stands confronts everyone first with the question: Do you really want to get well? And then with the command: “Then do something.”
But the victim role is a familiar one. It’s one of the staples of right-wing religion in the U.S today and has a long history in the Christian tradition.
The right-wing works out of the victim role, claiming that “liberals,” LGBTQ+ people, feminists, socialists, culture (you know the list), are out to get them, to destroy their families, their children, and their way of life. Think of how they constantly insisted that marriage equality would destroy their straight marriages.
This means that Jesus’ question needs to be applied to those who remain bigots toward LGBTQ+ people. Do you want to change — or do you want to just stay where you are even if it opposes rationality, human kindness, science, or other religious options? Even if it means rejecting those you claim to love?
There are no new arguments for LGBTQ+ discrimination
It’s not as if we haven’t heard all the arguments for discrimination they regurgitate for at least a half-century. And every single one of them has been answered for those same 50 years or more.
There are no new arguments, no new discoveries to be used to promote the old bigotry people cling to. And if they really cared to change, they would have sought out the answers.
So why are these people stuck? Why do they blame everything else when the end of discrimination, homophobia, transphobia will mean reconciling with those they claim to love and a healing for them too?
Why do they continue to find excuses as if they are just victims? Fear because they’re scared straight by their conditioning? Afraid to confront their own personal issues about sexual orientation and gender identities? Fear of losing their power or their privileged position?
Why do they want to believe untruths about all this? Why do they seek out media that just confirm their prejudices even when it’s been shown that that media lies to them?
Why not free themselves from the fears and anger attached to their prejudices and bigotry?
We can’t know what’s really going on in their minds. Pollsters know that people lie to them.
But that old question is still the question of the day that needs an answer: “Do you want to change; do you want to get well?”
Or is it easier to lie at the doorstep to healing on your mat blaming everything and everyone else?
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.