A certain man was there [at the Pool of Bethesda] who had an illness for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had been in that condition now a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. But while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” Immediately the man was healed, took up his bed, and walked.” – John 5:5-9 (MEV)
I have a confession to make.
I used to think the invalided man in the above passage of Scripture was a whiner. In all my rickety ‘holier than thou’ glory, I actually did have the audacity to think, “Yup, here’s a person who has Jesus asking him if he wants to be healed, and all he can do is complain about not having anyone to put him in the pool after the angel’s once-a-day stirring.” (See verses 1-4 of John 5.) Yessir, I failed to notice a few key elements to this story, among them:
· The angel came to stir the water once a day.
· There was, at least according to the New King James version, “a great multitude” of people waiting to be healed, for their chance to be the first one to get in the water. (I’m thinking Black Friday/Boxing Day sales day kinds of crowds here, at least.)
· The man in question had been sick for 38 years. And who knows how long he had been waiting and trying, day after day, to be the first in a multitude to enter the healing waters at the Pool of Bethesda?
Here’s another confession (or two): I get whiny if a cold sticks around for more than a few days. Waiting at railway crossings can make my blood pressure soar. As such it’s a terribly humbling thing to realize what a fool I was with my attitude towards this unnamed man who had the hope, tenacity, and flat-out endurance to keep trying to get well.
And one has to wonder, what was this man’s first thought when asked if he wants to be made well? Did it seem like a question with a blatantly obvious answer? Did he want to say, “What do you think? I’m here, aren’t I?” But what he says, right off the bat, is “Sir …” Nothing derogatory or demeaning. Something respectful. Maybe he saw something in Jesus - in the way He talked or walked, in the people who followed Him. Maybe he heard some stories about this young rabbi from Nazareth. Or maybe the man was simply tired of seeing the water stirred time and time again and not being able to be the first one to reach it. Either way, he answered matter-of-factly and respectfully with his dilemma. Namely, he wants to be well but he literally cannot get there on his own.
And is that not what we each need to do, in countless ways day after day, with Jesus? Simply admit we cannot do it on our own, that our own efforts fall short every time? Because here’s the next part of this story I didn’t fully connect the dots on until recently: This man’s honest acknowledgement of his current situation allowed Jesus to come in and turn it around. This man said, more or less, “I can’t do this on my own.” Jesus replied, more or less, “Here, let Me heal you.” And the man was healed, got up, took his bedroll – both as Jesus had commanded – and walked.
This is not yet, I think, fully unpacked on my end of things. But man, I hope to one day see this man and apologize – likely to his befuddlement – for not seeing him for the strong character he was who made room for the Saviour to work in his life by being straightforward and then simply obedient.