What goes through your mind when you see someone standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign? How do you react when you come across someone who is burdened with a physical problem that renders them helpless? Do you feel uneasy around those with special needs? When you see an unwed mother paying for groceries with food stamps, where does that scene take you mentally?
In today’s passage, Jesus returned to Jerusalem to observe one of the Jewish Feasts. We’re not sure which one, but it’s reasonable to assume it was Passover, Pentecost or Tabernacles. Those were the three Jewish feasts the Old Testament required able-bodies Jews to come to Jerusalem to worship. Since Jesus was a faithful Jew, He obediently fulfilled the Law.
However, Jesus did nothing without purpose and intention. Jerusalem was surrounded by a protective wall, so to enter you had to pass through one of the gates. He intentionally chose the “Sheep Gate” because He wanted to teach His disciples something about the heart of God.
There was a pool near the “Sheep Gate” called Bethesda, which means “house of mercy.” This was not a pool for recreation, but was considered healing. Somehow, over the years, people began to believe that periodically the waters of this pool moved because angels would come and hover near. It was believed that the first person to jump into the water after the movement would receive a miracle. There is no evidence anyone had ever actually been healed in this place, but that didn’t stop the rumors from flying.
That’s why the pool was always surrounded by large numbers of hurting, helpless people. Some were blind, others lame or paralyzed. None who lounged by this pool had come there on their own. All needed help because of their physical disabilities. This was not an accommodating spa to be enjoyed, but instead a sight that invoked pity.
Into this helpless situation walked Rescue Jesus! It’s kind of sad no one recognized Him. Can you imagine the sounds that greeted Him? Wailing and whining, they cried out: “Alms for the poor. Can you give me a handout? Just a penny would do!” Little did they know the One whom angels worship, the Great Physician Himself, was now standing in their presence!
Jesus’ eyes fell on one man, a man who everyone ignored, but every person matters to God. This man had been a cripple for 38 years, so Jesus’ question had to come across as one of the strangest in all of Scripture: “Do you want to get well?” Why would Jesus ask such a thing? Doesn’t the answer seem obvious? Doesn’t anyone who has been incapacitated for 38 years want to get well?
Allow me to speculate: we often become comfortable in our situations. It’s a quirk of human nature. Some derive recognition from a disability; some receive income. In Jesus’ day, begging was an acceptable “job.” We know what it feels like to be in pain, depressed, abused, or addicted but we don’t comprehend what “well” would feel like. So some don’t really want to get well. The cure would actually be disturbing.
It’s that way in the Church, too, don’t you think? People come to Church for many reasons. Certainly, some come for the right reasons (to worship and learn about God). But some come with no intention of “getting well.” They’re comfortable in their sinful lifestyle and don’t want to give it up. So they come to Church for personal gain, perhaps interested in making contacts and networking. Or maybe they’re looking for attention from caring people. Maybe they’re looking for significance or even a significant other. They come to the Church looking for everything but the right thing: healing of what ails their sin- plagued heart. “Do you want to get well?”
As intriguing as Jesus’ question was, the man’s response was more revealing. A simple “yes” or “no” would have been sufficient, but this man said, “I don’t have anyone to help. There’s nothing I can do. I’m alone. Everyone has abandoned me. It’s all their fault. I’m a victim!” Do you hear him whine? This guy was a load. He had probably burned every bridge to others. He had consumed every relationship and worn out every friendship.
Jesus didn’t respond to the whine, but told him to do three things: (1) Get up. (2) Pick up your mat. (3) Walk. To his credit, this lame man did exactly as Jesus commanded. And the healing waters owed!
Now here is the caveat in all of this: it appears this ex-invalid was healed physically, but that made no spiritual difference in his life. When you read John 5, you learn he walked away from Jesus not even knowing Jesus’ name. Can you imagine?!
Jesus later found the man in the temple. He said to him, “You’re well now, but stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Get the point? The invalid felt God’s power, but he left still stuck in his humanity, weak and empty. His body was whole, but his soul was a mess. His life was now different, but his spirit had not really changed. (To read the rest, go to my comment below.)What goes through your mind when you see someone standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign? How do you react when you come across someone who ...Read More