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. John 5:1-9a
If you’ve ever had a loved one trapped in an addiction, you know that unless there’s a desire to be released from the vise grip squeezing life from one’s bones, little will change. I have a friend whose history includes a long series of awful choices: poor nutrition, no exercise, erratic sleep, and repeated engagement in stressful activities. All this has slowly deteriorated his body and soul. He’s encountered a number of health scares and stern words from doctors. For a few weeks he will say he’s making radical adjustments. Inevitably, though, he returns to his usual ways. The fact is, he does not truly want anything different. He wants his unhealthy life more than he wants to be well. I cannot cast stones. At times, I’ve had this pattern in my own story.
The plain truth is that if we are to be well (whether health for our body or restoration in our family or renewed relationship in our life with God), then we have to want to be well. We have to nurture our cravings for God and goodness; these deep desires are essential. Augustine of Hippo said, “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire.” Jesus had much to say about the importance of paying attention to the affections of our heart. In this the story of Jesus at the pool of Bethesda the man hoped to receive one of the healings that reportedly transpired whenever an angel miraculously touched the waters. The name of the pool gives a hint of the encounter that was about to take place. In Aramaic, Bethesda means “house of grace” and in Hebrew, “house of mercy.” Whenever Jesus arrives, mercy and grace are sure to arrive as well.
A man, ill for 38 years, had long been lying beside the pool, crippled and waiting for the slim possibility that his life might change. In the first century, to be crippled meant you were unable to earn a living for your family and were often ostracized from your community. To endure chronic ailments or disabilities was not only a physical hardship, but also an impenetrable barrier to a normal life.
When Jesus arrived, He found the man and asked him the most basic question: Do you want to be well? The crippled man’s response surprises me. I would expect a quick and unequivocal Yes! More than anything! Now! However, the man’s reply gives evidence of the many years of disappointment, the decades of waiting until his optimism had been bled dry. “Sir,” he replied, “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (v. 7). We hear little hope in the man’s sad reply. No anticipation that Jesus might help him. Decades of pain and dashed possibilities brought him to the place where all he could see was a sealed fate, a grim future.
There are many reasons why we find it difficult, in our broken places, to stay connected with our desire for something more. To hope for (to live with the deep desire for) healing can itself be an excruciating act. We often abandon our desire for healing because we are deeply afraid. It’s a fearful thing to surrender the security of the present (no matter how disappointing or painful it may be) for the uncertainty of the future.
To come to Jesus for healing, we must relinquish the idea that our life is in our hands. To step into the fullness God intends, we must be awake to Him as well as to our pain and everything in us (and our world) that is not well. We must allow the tears and the joy and the promises of God to resurrect the places in our hearts that have grown cold.
When Jesus speaks, however, hope is always kindled. The heart’s embers are stirred. After the crippled man’s disheartened reply, Jesus looked him in the eye, pushed aside his gloom and spoke with authority: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (v. 8). The man had a choice. To be well required obedience and willingness to embrace the joy and healing Jesus offered. The man had to move and take a risk. And he did. This man who had not stood on his own legs for nearly four decades hopped up from the dusty ground, grabbed his bedroll and strolled (I imagine him walking with a little jig) back to his home—back to his life.
When God offers us life, all we have to do is stand up. All we have to do is say yes. All we have to do is decide we want it. This Sunday at South Side we will continue our series “God Questions.” Do you want to get well? What area of your life needs the healing touch of Jesus? We will answer these questions and more during worship this Sunday. You are invited to join us for a fresh cup of coffee, and a time of spiritual growth. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to have you and your family come and worship with us!
South Side Church of Christ