Medical science and technology have contributed to extending longevity and reducing the prevalence of life-threatening medical problems. We are more aware of risks to life and health, many of them caused by human factors and decisions. Despite the availability of medical advice and information based on scientific research, we continue to see a persistence of persons engaging in unhealthy, life-threatening behaviors. Americans fear the threat of criminal behavior but a much greater threat to our health and safety are the more common risky behaviors and personal “bad habits.”
The lectionary text that was read and heard in many churches a couple weeks ago was a story about Jesus approaching a lame man lying beside a pool of water (John 5:1-9). Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” The man replied “Sir, I have no one to put me into the water when it is stirred up, and someone else gets to the water before me.”
His response was based on an ancient belief in that time that an angel regularly stirred up the water in the pool and gave it divine healing powers. His reply reflects the frustration and helplessness he felt at not being able to get into the pool’s healing waters. A contemporary response to the man’s complaint may be condescension for his superstitious belief and for doing little else to deal with his physical condition.
Are we today much different from the man in biblical times? Do we apply the medical and scientific findings? Do our decisions and actions reflect that “we want to be made well?” Many causes of cancer, heart disease and other risks to health and life are preventable, but we persist in risky behaviors and resist many life-saving changes. Environmental pollution, smoking, diet and eating habits come to mind. Multiple injuries and fatalities result from distracted driving and cell phone use. Thousands die each year from firearms, including accidents and suicides. Treatment and support for mental health services lag behind other medical services. Deaths from opioids could be prevented by better regulation of pharmacists and corporate greed. Many more examples come to mind, such as the refusal to get vaccinations against measles and other common illnesses.
Many causes of illness and death are preventable. Do we want to be made well?
We do not believe today that pools of water have magical healing powers, but we are ignoring or refusing to adopt changes and policies that could “make us well.” Jesus’s question to the man established a connection and began a healing process. Healing happens today. We are made well when we adopt laws, policies and regulations to reduce causes of injury and death. Healing happens when we take steps to reduce unhealthy and dangerous behaviors and conditions. Healing happens when we connect with others to promote healthy behavior and habits; and healthy, safe and wholesome communities.