Today’s passages: Nahum, chapters 1-3; John, chapter 5
Scripture: John 5:1-9 (NRSV) – After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ”Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Observations: I love the healing miracles of Jesus, because he seems to never do the same thing twice. At the end of John chapter 4, he heals the son of a royal official without ever seeing the boy; he simply tells the official to go, and his son would live – and that’s exactly what happens. In chapter 9, Jesus will put mud on the eyes of a blind man to heal him. In the other gospels, he touches lepers; a woman touches him; he even touches the tongue of a man who was mute and put his fingers into the man’s ears! Here, in chapter 5, Jesus is back in Jerusalem, and he walks by a pool that had five covered porches around it. I’m not sure what the original purpose of those porches was, but in Jesus’ day they had become places were those who were blind, lame, or paralyzed would lie. They waited there because people believed that, from time to time, an angel would come and stir up the waters of the pool; they believed that when that happened, the first person into the water would be healed. (Many Bible translations include this information in a footnote to verse 3. It seems to be confirmed by the paralyzed man’s statement in verse 7 that he had no one to put him into the pool when the water was stirred.)
When Jesus came along that day and saw this particular man – who had been waiting there, day after day, for thirty-eight years– he asked the man, “Do you want to be made well?” I’ve always wondered about that question. Why would he be sitting there, day after day, if he didn’t want to be made well?
There’s “wanting” to be made well, and then there’s wanting to be made well. Anybody who is sick “wants” to be made well; who likes being sick? But how much did he wantto be made well? He was waiting for a chance to get into the water when it was stirred, but how close was he to the water? In his response to Jesus, he talks about “making his way” when the water was stirred. Was he close enough to get into water right away – or was he back under the cover of the porch, in the shade? The potential for healing was there, but was he doing everything he could to take advantage of it? So Jesus’ question probably meant something like this: “How badly do you want to be made well?”
The man had evidently seen other people be healed. He told Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” If the people who made it into the pool ahead of him on those other occasions had not been healed, why would he have kept waiting there for the opportunity to get into the pool? In his mind, the pool was his best (maybe only) opportunity, so there he was, day after day, hoping to be healed.
And then he encountered Jesus, and he was!
Applications: As I read this passage today, I thought about how many people in our world are so close to the opportunity for healing and wholeness, and yet they “lie on the porch” because no one is there to “help them into the water.” I’m not talking primarily about physical healing (although God is certainly able to do that); I’m talking about spiritual healing. Jesus makes it clear, time and time again, that our physical health and wholeness pales in comparison to our spiritual life and health. “Why do you fear those who can kill the body but cannot touch your soul?” (see Matthew 10:28). When Jesus talked to this man later, he told him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you” (5:14). While Jesus healed many people, he always made it clear that physical healing is secondary to our spiritual health. In our culture, physical health can easily become an idol to us; we spend so much time, and money, to try to “look good” and “feel good” that it becomes a never-ending pursuit, requiring more and more from us and giving us less and less. In opposition to that, Jesus calls us to make God’s Kingdom our priority: “Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, shelter, clothing] will be given to you as well.”
God is reminding me today of the people who are waiting to be healed, to become spiritually whole. Many of them want to be healed, but have no one to “help them into the pool.” That’s what Jesus has called us to do!
Prayer: Father, thank you for sending me people to “help me into the pool,” so I could be made whole in you. Show me today how I can help others “into the pool.” Help me to lead others to your presence, to find spiritual life and health and peace. Amen.