Cross the Moment
The Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero offers an unsettling depiction of the moral and spiritual poverty behind the contemporary façade of wealth, success, and fame. The author describes the vacuous life of sex, drugs, and violence among the teen-age children of wealthy entertainers. Though fictitious, the book captures a scene that for some feels tragically all too accurate. Ellis depicts the bankruptcy and the cries of the human soul, which are by no means unique to any one particular lifestyle. The cries are clear and can be heard throughout the story, and may well be ours as well: Is there anybody who really loves me? Is there anyone anywhere who can help me?
The apostle John tells a story with similar undertones. There was in the city of Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, which had five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—the blind, lame, and paralyzed. For it was commonly thought that when the waters of the pool stirred, the Spirit of the Lord was near and the sick who touched the waters would be healed. At this pool was a paralytic man who had been ill for 38 years. It is unclear whether the man dragged himself to the pool every day or remained there year after year at the water he believed had the power to heal him. John only reports that Jesus saw the man there as he approached the pool and “knew that he had been there a long time” (John 5:6). Yet even knowing this, Jesus asked the seemingly needless question: “Do you want to get well?”
At first sound, the question seems redundant, unjustified—maybe even cruel. Was there any doubt that the deepest longing of this man’s heart was to get well? And yet, he fails to really answer the question. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me” (5:7). The cries of the human heart can be heard throughout history, generation after generation. Does anyone care? Is there anyone who really loves me? Is there anyone anywhere who can help? Sometimes it is the bitter cry of loneliness, many times it is the wearisome cry of emptiness, but it is always a call for help. Yet, how often we find that our actions and attitudes contradict the cries closest to our hearts? How often is our deepest hope overlooked while we focus on the technicalities, justifying the question that calls us back: “Do you want to get well?” In the words of poet W. H. Auden,
We would rather be ruined than changed;
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.(1)
Where Jesus asks “Do you want to be well?” it is possible he may also be asking, Do you prefer your pain to the possibility of change? Do you want more to see the miracle accomplished your way then to see it accomplished at all? Indeed, do you really even want the thing you say you long for most? His questions gently pierce the heart of the human condition we all share, bidding us to receive the very thing we ask from the only one capable of giving it.
Where we seek meaning, are we willing to be changed by that meaning? Where we seek help, we will receive instruction? Where we seek healing, are we willing to be transformed? Where we seek true community, are we willing to relinquish autonomy? Where we seek understanding, are we willing to climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die?
To every cry of every heart, Christ calls out, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The question he asks as we walk forward is “Do you really want to be well?”
(1) As quoted in Risvolti (Mars Hill Review, Issue 19), 158.
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