Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Jesus healing the man beside the pool of Bethesda. It’s a common example of Jesus’ compassionate miracle-working power that is found in John 5:1-17. Jesus is entering Jerusalem on the sabbath day for an unspecified feast day. John records…
Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered. A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, 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.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
The man’s muscles, faith, and attitude had all shriveled over his long condition. There’s an edge of bitterness and jealousy in his answer to Jesus. Hint: if Jesus asks, “do you wish to get well?” the answer is, “YES!” Undeterred, Jesus spoke in a similar “go and do” manner as the two miracles at Cana (water into wine, and the official’s son). The man did exactly what Jesus said and was healed, but as the rest of the story reveals, his heart still needed some work.
It so happened to be the sabbath day, a day set apart for rest and worship. Problem: the healed man was breaking the sabbath laws by carrying his mat. John wrote, “So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.”
Jesus didn’t arrive at the Pool of Bethesda in super-hero fashion proclaiming his identity and purpose. He simply expressed compassion and healed the man. No fanfare, no parade, no attention getting devices. But I’m also struck by the healed man. He didn’t turn to Jesus with thanks, let alone praise. If you want a contrast, consider the lame man healed in Acts chapters 3 and 4. We are told that he went into the temple, “walking and leaping and praising God.”
Jesus did catch-up eventually with the man. John writes, Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Now, it is important to be clear here. We’d like some straight-line logic which confirms that all debilitating conditions are caused by personal or family sin. While Jesus hints at a connection here, there are other verses (John 9:2-3, for example), which reveals there is no direct, always true, connection between illness and personal or family sin. But we can say that all sickness and disease is generally sin related due to the world’s fallen nature following Adam and Eve’s sin.
In a way, what the man did next confirms and reveals a paralyzed heart. After Jesus’ warning, we are told, “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” There is in the man a strong bent towards blaming others and yielding to social pressure. He blamed others at Bethesda for not making into the pool when the waters were stirred. He blamed Jesus (without naming Him) as being responsible for his breaking of the sabbath rules. Then, instead of embracing Jesus, he betrayed Him to the Jewish leaders to perhaps save his own skin. At least as far as we know, the man never faced up to his deeper brokenness.
The story concludes, “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:1–17, NASB95) Not only a declaration of action but also of identity. God is still working, still seeking those who will hear and do, still healing those broken in body, soul, and spirit.
So often, we think and perhaps even pray for someone to fix something in our life. If only, we say. If only someone would have carried the man. If only my job was better or my spouse better or my kids better or my health better, then all would be good. Those external circumstances are our felt needs (along with many others.) And, as we see in the story, Jesus does care about those needs. But we also must come face to face with our real need – the brokenness inside of ourselves. The sin, bitterness, judgment, pride, and self-centeredness we all suffer from. It’s amazing to me that as God’s love and forgiveness heals our brokenness, we then begin to see our world in a whole new way. More often than not, when I address my real need, all those felt needs are somehow made better. I wonder if the man in the story ever learned that lesson?