Day 5: John 5:1-30 “The Healing Word”
Jesus was a master at asking questions. His questions always had a specific purpose: inviting someone to take that pivotal, next step forward in their journey of faith. That step was to a place they had not yet been, or more often, to places that had been badly neglected and doggedly avoided.
Those are never easy questions for me. They’re intimidating and often painful. Questions like that ask me to call out those inner demons, name those lifelong fears, and push me into shadowy valleys I had been deathly afraid to even acknowledge. Through Scripture, through prayer, through his working in others, Jesus has invited me to confront my nagging need for approval, my fears of abandonment, my tendency to defiantly go it alone as the misunderstood kid on the playground, my impulsiveness, and my tendency towards addictions. Those are a few of my biggies.
So one day, Jesus is in Jerusalem for a Jewish festival and goes to a place within the city called the Pool of Bethesda. John records that at this pool, people who had paralysis, the blind, and others with crippling disabilities gathered to find healing. Bethesda means “house of mercy.”
When I imagine this scene of so many broken people in this one place, I think of the many nursing homes I have visited. It’s a pretty agonizing prospect for me to visit a nursing home. I do it, but not without a lot of personal preparation. To see people bound to wheelchairs, beds, and walkers, in various mental and emotional states, many neglected and alone, some visibly pained, others staring lost and confused. And the smells… Nevertheless, it’s that one smile or that one hand I hold of a fellow human being deeply blessed that another fellow human being took the time to sit and listen that makes my visit well worth the while. Jesus is there.
And Jesus approached a man at the Pool of Bethesda who had been an invalid for 38 years. 38 years! (Yes, that’s my lifetime.) Who knows how long he had been lying there before Jesus walked along. Any time is too long, isn’t it?
Every time I read this passage and think of those nursing homes I have visited, Jesus’ opening question to the man strikes me as insensitive and out of place to the extreme. “Do you want to get well?” he asks. C’mon, Jesus. That would be akin to walking up to you, slapping you on the back after your 40-day fast in the desert, and with a beaming smile shout, “Hey Jesus, are you hungry?”
But then I remember that Jesus’ questions are never careless. There’s a purpose behind his question. He must have seen something in the man that needed to see the light of day. The man is lying by the pool to find healing, but does he really want to be well?
The man’s response is quite telling. He doesn’t respond with a simple, “Yes!!” Instead, he responds with a litany of self-pity which he had undoubtedly rehearsed many times in his mind. “No one is here to help me,” he complains. “On top of that, everytime I do try to get in to those healing waters, someone shoves in ahead of me.” He decried the injustice of his life and his loneliness, but notice that he did not directly answer Jesus’ question.
What did the man really want? Did he want pity or did he want to get well? Did he want self-justification or to be truly whole?
Let’s bring this man’s story home for a little bit. On some level, all of us express some degree of dissatisfaction with the way life is right now. Some of us will live for years in a chronic repetition of pain and sorrow without knowing how to enter life any differently.
Granted there are things we can influence and things we have no control over. Wisdom and sanity is knowing the difference and choosing to take responsibility for what we can control. Much of what we can control has to do with the way we react to things, how we view and understand things, our attitudes, our actions, our will.
Yet often it’s much easier to remain within our patterns of life as they are now and justify them, no matter how painful, than to step outside of those patterns to live a different way. What we know seems safer, more familiar and comfortable and less fearful than the “new thing” we don’t know. So very often, people will remain where they are for its false sense of comfort and security than to venture into the unknown of something new, even if that new thing is the better life they have always wanted. We get burned and cynical at false promises and shallow hopes. We’ve been hurt before trying to get to something better. We don’t want to make that mistake again, even if our way of life now is slowly killing us. Better the devil we know…
Maybe that disabled man had some semblance of that fearful, self-pity when he responded to Jesus. Wellness? He had grown far too cynical to believe in some foolish notion of being made well. All he could do is wallow in his own afflictions.
But notice that Jesus’ compassion for this man was far greater than the man’s doubt and self-pity. Jesus was too concerned for him to leave him there. That’s why Jesus breaks through the mire of this man’s heart to say, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Somewhere within the man, there had to have been a spark of faith to respond with obedience. The light of faith had not entirely gone out because he did indeed get up and walk. He was an invalid no more thanks to Jesus whose living words are greater than our faithlessness and brokenness. How beautiful is that??
That’s all the more reason for me to keep trusting Jesus when I find myself in my own self-imposed funks or during those times when it seems that life beats me up and tears me down too much. I can keep going by trusting something else Jesus said in this same chapter,
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” John 5:24-25
This is not a mere religious affirmation of Christianity. Rather, it is a clarion call from Jesus himself, openly telling me and everyone else that if we really want to step out, step up and live, now and into the ages, we can listen for the word of Jesus, trust in his word and in God who sent him. That trust raises us up out of the mire and into the heights of eternal life. That’s where I want to be. It’s scary, sometimes. Sometimes it’s easier to settle for the familiar-far-less that I already have, no matter how innefectual it’s proven to be so far.
But Jesus is better… far better. It’s time to stop being afraid of the life he offers. It’s time to get busy living!