John 5:1-3, 5-16 (CEB)
On the surface it is a daft question: “Do you want to get well?”
Today I sat in the dentist’s chair – a big filling had fallen out and I had been in considerable pain over the weekend. The pain eased off through Monday and I was actually feeling better today.
The dentist took one quick look and declared that there was nothing that could be done for that tooth. Extraction advised.
I have had a few teeth like this one, a few cracked from old rugby-playing days when gum-shields were not the norm. They were filled years ago – but eventually the sides crack off leaving a brittle shard. I have had one crowned (the dentist said today that the crownned tooth was “hanging on!”) and I have had a couple removed. The last one to be removed had to be removed in hospital by a specialist with a hammer and chisel (yes – literally) – there was not enough of the tooth left above the surface to grip and pull!
So, I don’t know what I was expecting today – I thought, probably, there would have to be a temporary filling while an appointment was made to have the thing surgically removed – OR, that she’d recommend root-canal work in preparation for a crown.
I wasn’t prepared for her next question.
Do you want me to do it now?
The reading came back to me…. “do you want to get well?”
I genuinely thought about it…
I WAS feeling better – the pain HAD abated… maybe I could struggle through and it would all right itself.
I KNEW it was likely to be painful – and I wondered if it might go wrong – that the top might break off leaving a stump that had to be dug out – or (worse) left in there until an appointment could be made in hospital!
Did I want to get well? Was the familiar pain that I had been fending off with an assortment of old painkillers, clove oil and bonjela a BETTER prospect than the horror of what faced me now – vulnerable and unprepared in the hands of one of the brusquest dentists I have ever faced…
A genuine and totally NOT DAFT question, as it turned out!
I wonder if the same thoughts flashed through the mind of that man by the pool when Jesus asked. 30-odd years of coping with this pain, this disability, this illness (whatever it was) – and he’d learned to cope with it, he got by. Do I dare swap the familiar pain for the unfamiliar?
I knew that the tooth had to come out – and she took an x-ray to reassure me that she could actually do it – so I asked her to do it now.
She asked me to open my mouth and she put what I thought was a mirror into my mouth – presumably to get a closer look. Except it wasn’t a mirror – it was a HUGE needle that she plunged deep into the roof of my mouth. Naturally I flinched – and I may have made a grunt of some sort…
“You have to keep still” she replied!! (I said she was brusque!)
She proceeded to find as many painful places as she could to plunge the needle – several stabs into the roof of my mouth and a few in my gums for good measure.
Less than a minute of small-talk later (in which I demanded a “brave boy” sticker) – she asked if I was ready.
How do I know???!!
She took that as a yes – and got busy with the pliers. About a minute of tugging and rattling later it came out – in one clean piece. Job done.
(She didn’t give me the tooth as a souvenir – presumably they get to keep the tooth-fairy money?)
I was shooed out.
The secretary then relieved me of £53.90 and sent me on my way with a long list of instructions.
I felt nothing! bliss! Except that then I did!
Trolleying up the M5 on the motorbike at 70MPH gives a certain wind-chill factor at this time of year – and if you blow 70MPH of cold air onto a new gum-hole as the anaesthetic wears of (very quickly!) you notice it! Actually I could feel two kinds of pain: the dull, but insistant, gnawing ache of a tooth violently ripped from my jaw; and the sharper top-note of pain from the chuffing big needle holes she had visited upon the roof of my mouth which I don’t think was designed with sharp, plunging needles in mind.
Do you want to get well?
Well – in a word, no! Not if this is what it feels like!
It’s not a daft question. Sometimes being healed, being made well, is a serious commitment – and not one to be accepted lightly.
Of course, I’m not just talking about toothache – I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow! But I know you can fill in the blanks for yourself, especially if I finish by asking you – “Do YOU really want Jesus to make you well?” (If you do – be prepared for some pain and some change…)