“Stand, take up your mat and walk”

John 5:8

Wednesday, 08 July 2020

John 5:2-9

Jesus says to the sick man: “Stand, take up your mat and walk”. This is an interesting line. The man has been lying on this mat for 38 years – it must be filthy by now! We are told that the man immediately takes up the mat and walks. Why does Jesus tell him to take the mat? He does not need it.

The old mat teaches us two valuable lessons.

First, healing does not necessarily mean that we forget the past that has afflicted us. Our wounds are part of who we are. The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen tells us that we are all wounded physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. He says that we cannot hide or escape our woundedness. The challenge, Nouwen says, is for us to put our wounds at the service of others. “When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers,” he writes in his book The Wounded Healer.

The mat man is not ashamed of his sickness. He carries his mat, the symbol of his wounds, with him. By doing so, he offers others the hope of healing. He becomes a wounded healer.

There is another lesson. The sick man was lying on that mat and, in a sense, the mat controlled him for 38 years. He was dependent on it. Now he picks up the mat and walks. Even though the mat is still with him, he is no longer dependent on it. The mat, his sickness, no longer determines his daily routine. His healing has restored to him the freedom he did not have. The mat reminds him of his wounded past but also the freedom that healing brings.

Take some time today to reflect on the ‘mat’ in your own life. This could be an emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual scar you carry. It is the mark of an old wound. Do you let your wounds control you, or have you found the freedom healing brings? How might you, as Nouwen suggests, become a wounded healer?

Lord Jesus,
By your wounds, we are healed. Give me the grace not to fear or run from the wounds of my life. Help me to see how they are not my shame but can become my source of strength. Let me become, like you, a wounded healer.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
See more from Russell Pollitt SJ
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