Recently, the second season of the series The Chosen was released. This series focuses on the disciples of Christ (i.e. those who are “chosen” to follow him), and beautifully re-enacts various anecdotes from the Gospels.
I have shared previously that I am working to break the cycle of abuse in my family of origin, and this journey towards healing is one that is intimately interwoven into my faith journey. In addition to bringing the challenges of healing to sessions with my therapist, it is also something that I bring to prayer and spiritual direction.
Because of this, I was particularly moved by Season 2, Episode 4 of The Chosen. The episode centers around Jesse, the man who is healed at the pool of Bethesda. Although the name and backstory given are fictious, the man is not—we know from the Gospels that Jesus did cure a man at the pool of Bethesda, making it possible for him to walk again.
The Long-Suffering of the “Lame Man”
In this episode, the entire backstory of Jesse is imagined. The opening of the show flashes back to the accident in childhood that made him lose the use of his legs. We see painful incidents from adolescence and young adulthood when Jesse was left helpless and alone. The opening culminates with a sequence of scenes of the years that Jesse has spent at the pool of Bethesda—desperately trying to be one of the first to reach the pool when the waters are stirred up, so that he might be healed.
In the episode, we encounter current day Jesse, who has spent many, many years waiting beside the pool. He is tired. He is bitter. And he resents that despite his best efforts, no one will help him reach the pool fast enough.
Then, Jesus enters.
Permission to Be Healed
Tired and filthy, Jesse is confused when Jesus approaches him. He is even more confused by Jesus’s question, “Do you want to be healed?”
It should be noted that God is great enough that he doesn’t need permission to heal anyone. However, always the gracious bridegroom, God doesn’t heal us by force. Jesse is confused by the question and assumes that Jesus is going to help him get into the pool. Finally! Someone to care enough about him to lift him out of his misery! Finally, he is loved and wanted enough to be carried into that place of healing.
When Jesus makes it clear that that is not what he is offering, Jesse is confused. Out pours years of growing frustration, sadness, loneliness, and resentment. He begins by telling Jesus how hard he has tried, and then he lists a litany of all the ways others have failed to help him or have stood in the way of his healing.
Gently, Jesus tells him that he is not asking about how others have or haven’t helped him. He is only asking if Jesse wants to be healed. When Jesse sobs, “I’ve tried…” Jesus looks at him with deep compassion and says, “I know…for a long time.”
Finally, Jesus helps Jesse to see that to be healed, he only needs Jesus – and to give Jesus his “yes.” And Jesse is healed.
Consenting to the Healing of Jesus
My eyes filled with tears as I watched this scene, because I recognized the sadness and desperation in Jesse’s voice. In healing from the emotional abuse of my childhood, I have had to acknowledge that, as much as I love my parents and wish that they were able to be safe and loving people towards me – they aren’t capable of that, due to their own trauma and mental illness. Over the years, I have (much like Jesse) been filled with sadness and resentment when I have seen how loved, supported, and wanted others are by their families. In my less healthy moments, I have even tried to turn healthy friends into “replacement family members” and then grew angry with them when they weren’t able to be the new family that I hoped for. Like Jesse, I have tried to reach that pool and be healed, but I have also resented the fact that no one would lift me up and carry me there. Why is it that others have that support and I don’t? Is there something wrong with me? Am I not worthy of that kind of love and assistance?
Yet, a crucial part of my own healing journey has been recognizing that only God can heal me. Nothing will change what I have suffered. The awfulness of it is not something that any friend or spouse or spiritual family member could make better. The reality is that, like Jesse—that pool is one of false hope. The real healing can only come in embracing this cross—the cross of grief, learning to forgive, and ultimately letting God heal my heart. It would be wonderful to have someone lift me up and carry me to a magical pool where I would be instantly healed—to cushion me with the false hope that the deep wounds of my childhood could ever be erased by others (no matter how much they may love me).
The truth is that I, like Jesse, do have people who love me and care about me. However, also like Jesse—those people are not the ones that are able to heal me. Only Jesus can.
However, like with Jesse, Jesus won’t heal me by force. Gently, he first asks for my consent.
Healing in Forgiveness
In order for Jesse to be healed, he first had to forgive all those who had wronged him—those who had abandoned him, those who had not tended to his needs, those who had left him alone in his suffering, those who were not able or willing to carry him into the pool at Bethesda. He needed to relinquish all of that bitterness. It is true that he was mistreated and wronged, many times, over the years. Jesus isn’t asking him to act like that pain never happened. He’s asking him to put that pain into his (Jesus’s) hands. He’s asking Jesse to forgive all of those who have failed him, to let go of that resentment and acknowledge that only God can bring him the peace he longs for.
Only after Jesse relinquishes the resentments and expectations that he has placed on others, is he able to be open to the healing that Jesus wants to give him. What is particularly beautiful about this scene, too, is how much love Jesus offers to Jesse in his pain. He isn’t frustrated with Jesse. He understands why he is resentful and bitter. Yet…Jesus offers Jesse freedom from all of that.
Maybe you weren’t abused as a child, but you likely have your own pain from the mistreatment of others. Forgiving them doesn’t mean that the wrongs weren’t real, or that you deserved the pain. Forgiving them means being free – with space in your heart free enough to be open to God’s healing.
Jesus, with his loving gaze, waits only for our consent.