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Toshiki Toma

“What do you want to do?”

17. september 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.


“What do you want to do?” Isn’t this the question that constantly follows us and sticks around our lives? Moreover, it’s not only the question that we ask other people, but the one we keep asking ourselves. We all must remember the times when we were asked of this when we were small children: “What do you want to become when you grow up?”

Do you remember what you answered to the question? I remember I said I wanted to become a park ranger, riding a horse, in some big national park in America. I liked to watch the cowboy movies when I was very small.

And when we are grown up a little bit, it becomes more realistic topic than just a dream of a child to know what we want to do, for example in choosing an occupation. But it is not at all easy thing when you are around 20 years old to find out what you want to do in your life. “What do you want to do?”: I ask. The young person whom I am talking with answers: “Well… I don’t know what I want to do…” That’s a very common response. 

Let’s say now that a young person could find a vocation that he or she wants to do. Let’s say he wants to be a medical doctor, and would actually come into the faculty of medicine of a university. While he is studying the medicine, he has to find it out what kind of field in medicine he is interested in and what kind of medical doctor he wants to be.

“What do you want to do?” “What do I want to do?” These questions thus continue to follow us.

It is not only regarding our jobs. In each given situation in various aspects in our lives, we have to think what we want to do in that situation. In our private life, for example, when we move to a new stage of life, such as getting married, having the first child or becoming ill, we need to answer the question time after time: “What do I want to do now?” Namely, this question is the life-time question for us and we live our lives with this question.


But in fact, in many cases, we don’t know what we want to do. Why? In some case, maybe somebody has never had an opportunity to think about what he wants to do. Or in another case, something has happened in someone’s life unexpectedly, and he wouldn’t be able to know what he wants to do until things will be calmed down. It can happen.

For example, he had a big debt all of sudden and has been totally occupied with paying the debt back. When he has finished paying back all the debt, he might think: “Now what I should do?” 

Or sometimes, we know what we want to do, but don’t want to accept it and pretend not to know. This is interesting. To understand what we want to do means often, at the same time, to understand what we need to do, and it can be difficult for us to accept that fact.

In connection with this latter case, we see the opposite pattern almost every day. The opposite pattern is that somebody says that he wants to do some particular thing, but he doesn’t want to do the necessary thing that follows his wish. For example, a person wants to reduce his weight, but doesn’t want to go dieting.

This pattern is so average, but in this case, we cannot help asking of this question: “Do you really want to reduce your weight? Aren’t you just pretending to wish it?” And this question: “Do you really want it?” is also very important. Because it makes differences in our lives if we really wish something or just pretend to wish. 

So we think a bit more about those two questions: “What do you want to do?” and “Do you really wish it?” They are important questions.


In today’s Gospel, a disabled man – a sick man- appears. He has been sick for 38 years and he is spending days by lying besides the pool called Bethesda, in Jerusalem. There are many sick people and physically handicapped people by the pool, because there is a belief that if a sick person goes into the pool right after the winds make waves on the surface of the pool, then he would be cured. 

Jesus comes to this man. Jesus knows that this man has been sick for 38 years and he is here by the pool waiting for the opportunity to go into the pool first when winds make waves. 
Knowing those things, Jesus still asks the man: “Do you want to get well?” (Jn. 5:6)

It sounds rather strange to ask of this question to a sick man who has been ill for many years. If I ask of the same question to somebody who is sick in bed for years, the person must get insulted and say: “Are you joking? Do you think I am happy to be sick in bed every day? Yes, of course I want to get well!” 

But how about the man to whom Jesus addressed. Did he say: “Yes, sir. I want to get well!”? No. This man didn’t answer the question. Instead, he began to excuse himself. “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”(Jn. 5:7)

But it’s not what Jesus asked. He asked what he wished, if he wanted to get well. Why didn’t this man answer simply: “Yes, I want to get well!” Here is something that we need to think over.

There are two things that I want to point out. The first thing is the fear of this man of getting recovered. This man has been sick for 38 years. He must have been dreaming to get well, but if it actually becomes true, it can make him uneasy at the same time, because he doesn’t know if he can survive after he goes into the society as a healthy man. There is no guarantee for that. What happens if he cannot be happy even though he should be healthy?

I used to do a small part time job in a mental hospital in Japan when I was in the seminary. And I learned there that many patients became very nervous and uneasy when they were about leaving the hospital after they had got relatively well. They were afraid of going back into the society.

The second point about this sick man’s behavior is that since he has been sick for such a long time, he had naturally counted on other people more than himself in his own life.

Maybe it’s understandable. He might have thought: “What kind of difference will it make if I should wish something? I am powerless man and I cannot change anything. I am just miserable. I don’t know any more what I want”.


Those two points are nothing but my speculation. We don’t know exactly what was in this man’s mind when Jesus met him. But it is true that he didn’t answer Jesus clearly that he wanted to get well.

And I think we are allowed to presume from the story that this man was not so confident about if he wanted to get well or not. Maybe he had given it up in the course of time and lost his desire for health, even without noticing it himself……until he met Jesus.

I think we have more or less same kind of experience as this man, even though it is not as dramatic as this man has experienced. It happens every now and then that we lose strength in our wish while things don’t go as we expect and we are beginning to give up the wish without recognizing it, namely we are coming to that stage where we don’t know what we really want to do anymore. 

I used to have a very strong wish to master the Icelandic language. About 20 years ago, I wanted to speak Icelandic without any interruption or trouble. I spent much energy and time in learning Icelandic. But while years have passed, I began to realize that things would not go as I expected and… I don’t say I have given it up to make my Icelandic better, but maybe I don’t have as strong wish as before.

I don’t know what I want to do regarding my Icelandic at this moment. I am just being satisfied with my very “imperfect” Icelandic. I don’t know either if it is good thing or not.

What about you? I guess that each of you have something that is similar to this experience. Many of you have been, or still are, in a very difficult situation of life. You may be tired, worn out or exhausted. That is not something people outside can understand. But nevertheless you have the same strong wish to overcome the difficulties as you used to have? I hope you do. You are not fallen into the unconscious despair or powerless feeling? I hope not.

But if you have lost confidence about what you want to do, just like the sick man in the Gospel, that’s not good. You need help.


In our gathering including the prayer meetings, my task as a priest is to try to ensure that you meet Jesus. Because Jesus is the one who brings you help. Jesus is the one who opens the way in front of you. It is not me or other priests, or bishop of the church that matters. It’s only Christ that matters.

Christ knows the situation of each of you. He comes to you and asks: “What do you want?” “Do you want overcome the difficulties?” You might be able to answer with confidence “Ye, I do!” Or you might not be able to answer with confidence and might hesitate to answer.

But you don’t have to worry about it. 
When Jesus asks you of this question, the meaning is this: “I want to help you.” “Could you accept the help from me?” Jesus is not testing you by asking you of the question, but he is offering you his help.

But how can Jesus help us in our real situation? He can help us, first of all, in the most fundamental way, which is supporting our souls and minds. Jesus helps us by letting us confirm what we want to do and what we wish, that might have been faded away in our souls and minds even without our conscious.

Today’s Psalm says: 
“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your
sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.”(Psalm 103: 2-6)

To know what we want to do: that is the fundamentally important thing for us. And then we need to wish it. We need to desire it. By receiving the help from Jesus, we will surely regain the strength in our wishes and begin to wish our dream strongly again and determined.

We learn once again what we want to do. And we will find confidence in ourselves that we can achieve much more than we have expected, with the help of Christ.

That is the first step for everything. That is the life with Jesus. 
So, are we ready to accept the help from Jesus? And we all answer: „Yes, we are.“

The Grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.


Psalm 103:1-6

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

John. 5-1-9a

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

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