July 22, 2020

John 5: 6-7 

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?”

“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.”


The invalid at the pool gives a really strange response to Jesus’s question. Jesus asks him if he wants to get well, and his response has nothing at all to do with what he wants. Instead he’s looking around at his circumstances and describing his difficulties to Jesus. I’ve often heard this passage interpreted along the lines of:

Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Don’t be distracted by your circumstances.

Have faith.

Those are all true, but I also feel a tremendous amount of compassion for the invalid at the Bethesda pool. Have you ever been so overwhelmed by circumstances that you find it hard to see anything else? Have you ever been asked, “What do you want from this (job, relationship, degree)?” and been unable to coherently answer? I certainly have. How do we bridge this reality—that of our confusion and uncertainty—to arrive at stating and pursuing our desire to get well, get paid, or grow in intimacy?

The priest who founded the Jesuit (or the Society of Jesus, as they are sometimes called) had a lot to say about desire. And when confronted with uncertainty, had a response I’ve often relied on to bring me comfort and direction. Here it is, described by James Martin, S.J.:

Sometimes in Jesuit life, you might find yourself lacking the desire for something that you want to desire. Let’s say you are living in a comfortable Jesuit community and have scant contact with the poor. You may say, “I know I’m supposed to want to live simply and work with the poor, but I have no desire to do this.” Or perhaps you know that you should want to be more generous, more loving, more forgiving, but don’t desire it. How can you pray for that with honesty?

In reply, Ignatius would ask, “Do you have the desire for this desire?”  Even if you don’t want it, do you want to want it? Do you wish that you were the kind of person that wanted this?  Even this can be seen as an invitation from God. It is a way of glimpsing God’s invitation even in the faintest traces of desire.

Our truest desires do not always speak with shouts and trumpets. Sometimes the beginning of our deepest desires comes in wanting to want. I see in this a tremendous mercy. We do not have to be absolutely sure in order to pray faithfully. We don’t need to live in 100% certainty to begin a life of obedience. Instead, we can ask ourselves,

What do I want to desire more of today?