“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 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. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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? ‘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.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” John 5:1-9a
Of all the stories in the New Testament this is one of my favorites because it is such a wonderful story of grace. The man had been laying there by that pool for thirty-eight years in hope against hope that he could get in the pool first whenever the waters stirred. Can you imagine the aggregated total of his disappointment? Thirty-eight years of dreams and hopes that never were fulfilled. He was so close to what he believed would heal him, but being paralyzed he had absolutely no way to scoot across that last few feet of pavement and get into the pool. He also had no one who cared enough to help him. He was disabled, alone, probably had to live by begging and knew deep in his core that nothing was ever going to change.
There are many people like that in the world facing loneliness, pain and suffering alone without hope. But what is amazing about this story is he wasn’t alone because one day Jesus came into his life and that changed everything. The man never asked for Jesus to heal him, in fact later when the Jewish officials asked who had healed him, the man didn’t even know his name.
The man was lying on his mat watching the pool the same as he always did for the last thirty-eight years believing that when the waters stirred some fortunate person would be the first to push his way into the water and become healed. He just knew it wouldn’t be him and never would be. Then he hears a voice and looks up into the face of Jesus. And what this broken and defeated man hears are the words, “Do you want to get well?”
The man explains to Jesus how the healing at the pool takes place and admits that there is no one to help him into the pool so he can’t get well. In response Jesus tells the man to do three things. He tells him, “get up,” then, “pick up your mat,” and lastly “walk.” And the Scripture records, “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” The superstition that the stirring of the pool could heal him was replaced by the reality of the love and compassion of Jesus. His longing for healing that stretched over thirty-eight long years was realized in a short conversation with Jesus that consisted on Jesus’ part of a question and three short commands.
There is another side to the story that tells us something about faith and works. The man could never be healed on his own no matter how much he longed to be. He had no one to help him and he couldn’t do it on his own. He was left helpless and hopeless to do anything about his own condition. But not all is lost for this defeated and abandoned man because the voice of Jesus breaks through to him and he hears the words that will revolutionize his life, “do you want to get well?”
That’s the question Jesus asks each of us now, “do you want to get well?” He’s offering to remove the burden of loneliness, suffering, abandonment and hopelessness that can never be lifted on our own. The story teaches that we can’t heal ourselves spiritually because we have no power in ourselves to do it and no one to do it for us. It is only the undeserved love and compassion of God and His grace that can restore us to wholeness.
We don’t know what went through the head of the man after telling Jesus why he was not able to get well. But the very next words he heard were life changing, “Get up! Pick up your mat, and walk.” The man in obedience to the voice of Jesus stood up, gathered up his possessions and walked away healed. The man never bothered to learn Jesus’ name and we don’t even know if he thanked Him.
The Grace of God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. We can never be good enough, strong enough or determined enough to earn our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, it is an unexpected gift poured down upon us with inexhaustible compassion and love. We are simply the recipients of that grace and can only rejoice in the reality that God makes us well.