It is the Christmas season. It is the time of year in which we slow down, pause to reflect, and consider the conditions of our lives. It is the opportunity to appraise the condition of our souls.
Are we at peace? Are we happy in our relationships with family and friends? Are we connected to God such that we feel His presence and grace in our lives? Are we satisfied with our spiritual efforts? Are we filled with appreciation for the blessings in our lives? Are we assured that we are giving the love and service to others that will bring us humility?
These are fine questions. But even such questions can trouble us—for what if the answer is “no”? What if we long for peace but do not find it? What if our relationships are troubled or bruised? What if our connection to God feels distant? What if our spiritual efforts have waned? What if we feel that our lives are plagued by burdens and not blessings? What if we have no depths within us left to give in service to others?
In a season that celebrates wholeness through the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ the Son of God, at times we long for the wholeness that we are encouraged to bestow on others. True wholeness comes only, at times, through the Atonement and healing balm of a loving Savior.
“A Great Multitude of Impotent Folk”
In John 5:2-9 we read about the pool at Bethesda , and it gives this account:
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these [porches] lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. (v. 2-3)
The “multitude of impotent folk” meant that these were persons who had something wrong with them physically or who had been afflicted in some way. The idea with the “moving of the water” was that an angel would move into the water and stir it up and then move out, and after the water was stirred the first one to enter the water would receive some kind of healing experience and then be healed (v. 4). They could then leave the porches and be fine. It continues:
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? (v. 5-6)
As I have thought about the times in which we make mistakes or troubles come into our lives, we are often asked that same question: Would you not like to be made whole?
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. (v. 7-8)
There are two or three things in this scriptural account that I would like to go back over quickly. First of all, in verse 3 it states that in the porches “lay a great multitude of impotent folk.” If we look at this scripture in a symbolic manner then I think that most of us can understand that each of us is imperfect, and each of us has parts of our life where there have been problems or in which we need to make changes. I see this all the time as people come to my office who have had problems and are trying to work through them. Sometimes they know not where to go or which way to turn.
In such circumstances, the Savior comes forward and says, as in verse 6, “Wilt thou be made whole?” There is not one of us to whom the Lord would not make that same query: Wilt thou be made whole? Wilt thou be made clean? Wilt thou be made free of the problems of this mortal existence? As the man comments that he has no one to help him, the Savior responds and asks him to have faith, saying, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (v. 8).
The Master and Wholeness
The single most important thing that we can focus on in our lives is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I know of no other reason that we are even here in mortality than because of that very name. We call him Master, we call him Lord, and we call him Brother. We know that Christ performed a universal atonement.
All who accept God’s plan in their lives must confront themselves at one time or another. They must consider how they will approach the principles given by God – to humble ourselves, to repent of their sins, to forgive others of their trespasses, or to obey commandments that we have broken ourselves against. We understand that when we commit sin, to become whole again we should then repent. That is almost an automatic understanding: If we have a sin, we need to repent.
Sometimes we are challenged by the Savior’s invitation to the lame man, to “rise, take up thy bed, and walk” – how can a lame man simply arise? He who has not walked for many a year? How can we do that which it seems impossible to do in our present circumstances?
Healing is a miraculous process. It involves a variety of elements, but without the effort of one who wishes to be made whole, it is a process that often does not occur. We ourselves must come forward to the Savior and lay ourselves before Him, in the midst of our challenges and inadequacies, and acknowledge that we need His power in our lives to become healed. We must desire, as He asks of us, to be made whole. The Lord asks us, first, about our desires – for without a desire to become whole the pathway to healing becomes clouded.
Ponder these examples:
• How is it possible to find peace from the trauma of being abused if one is unwilling to seek out healing interventions?
• How can a marriage that is dying and in pain be brought back to life and love when at least one spouse is unwilling to make an effort or forgive past difficulties or mistakes?
• How can our relationship to God grow near once again if we are unwilling to kneel on bended knee or explore His word in the scriptures?
• How are we able to feel the living companionship of the Holy Ghost if we give little of ourselves to others in a calling or refuse to live by the commandments of God?
• How can we see the blessings in our lives when we allow our vision to focus only on the burdens that beset us?
• How can we find more of ourselves to give if we live in self-absorption, isolate ourselves in pain, or refuse the healing light that comes through positive association with others?
An understanding of the Atonement of Christ teaches us that the power is in the Savior to heal. Yet this account at the pool of Bethesda also shows that in seeking to heal us, the Savior also engages us and probes our desires and our faith and our willingness to act so that we come unto Him for such healing.
It is not that we shouldn’t allow for the Atonement to take away our sins, to unburden us as it were, but along with that unburdening comes a responsibility to school our desires, lift our weary limbs, or turn a tired head in the direction of the Savior’s voice.
Receiving the Gift of the Atonement
The Atonement is a phenomenal and wonderful gift to us. It can lift our burdens. It can heal our wounds. We ought to be able to receive the gift of the Atonement. When we go into the waters of baptism we covenant with the Father through the name of Christ to receive a gift called the Atonement, to shed our sins and be clean. It is a gift. Of all the gifts that we might seek to receive at this time of year, this is the most worthy gift, a gift that comes to bring healing and wholeness. How do we receive it? Do we long for it above other gifts? Do we make changes in our lives that might allow us to more fully receive this gift?
We are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants that Christ, who is the Exemplar to us in all things, learned “line upon line” and “precept upon precept,” until he gained a fulness. He says to us in Doctrine and Covenants 93 that as he was going through the process of preparing for the Atonement, he received of his Father “grace for grace” (v. 12), again illustrating the concept of receiving line upon line, and precept upon precept. It did not happen to him in a moment. He did not become the Christ of Gethsemane and Golgotha in an instant in time. He was born and lived thirty-three years before He was in a position to step forward and finish that particular part of his mission from his Heavenly Father. Even then, we are told that as He approached that time in Gethsemane, that he shrunk because of the ominous nature of that which He had to face (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18). But He went ahead and said, “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42), and so He took it upon himself and went through it. However, it did not happen in a moment.
What I would encourage each of us to remember as we think of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is that it represents a day-by-day growth experience. We make mistakes. All of us make mistakes—but hopefully we are not making the same mistakes at age forty that we were making at age twenty. Even so, the gospel of healing offers the opportunity for repentance, for learning, for healing—often line upon line.
Christ said to us simply this: “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). He did not ask for very much, simply for us to come unto Him and walk the paths that He walked, and to follow Him. In other words, to live His teachings. He said to Peter at Galilee , “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). He sought out Philip and said, “Follow me” (John 1:43). He sought out Levi and said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27). To us, He says, “Follow me.” The way that we learn, as taught in the Book of Mormon, is “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30).
Hearken to the Savior’s Call
As I return to the scriptural account from John, remember that it said that there lay in those porches a “multitude of impotent folk” (John 5:3). All of us are in some way in a symbolic manner “impotent folk.” Some of us are blind; some of us cannot hear; some of us are halt; and some of us are withered. Christ says to you, and He says to me, “Follow me.” Then He says, very simply, “Wilt thou be made whole?” I think that the question is given to each of us, and I would think that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” We all want to be back in His fold and to come back into the presence of God.
As we work through our lives and attempt to steer a course back to our Father in Heaven, I would hope that we would learn those things which we need to learn, do those things that we need to do, and when we have made mistakes we should repent of them, shift that burden, and get back on the path of the strait and narrow way and remain there.
He says, “Follow me.” He asks, “Wilt thou be made whole?” And we are told, through the prophet Alma, “The good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep.”
The call of the Christmas season is the call to come unto Christ. There is nothing that I know of in all my experience that can heal us more deeply. I hope that each of us might answer the call and the beckoning of the Savior to bring us home, to heal us in His own way and His time, and to be made whole as He promises.
(You can share any comments or feedback with Sean Brotherson at [email protected] –I look forward to hearing from you!)