Daily Devotion - Friday, Feb 5, 2016
"When you cease to exist, then who will you blame?" - Bob Dylan
There is this great story in the Gospel of John chapter 5 of Jesus healing a man who had been an invalid for a very long time. Here's the first part of it:
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?”Here's a bit of background on this story. This particular pool, which was fed by a spring, was a place where people in the city of Jerusalem would come and gather water to drink.
It was also considered sacred because it was said to have healing properties. The water of the pool would bubble naturally because of the spring that was feeding it, but it was believed that if you had an infirmity and were the first person into the pool after the water was "troubled," you would be healed.
The guy who Jesus encounters here is described as an "invalid," which is a bit unclear. It's thought that he was afflicted with weakness that made it difficult for him to get up and get to the water in time.
I love the question that Jesus asks the guy. It seems like the most obvious question in the world: "Do you want to get well?" You would think that Jesus would just assume the guy would want to get well, right? I mean the guy is lying near a pool, which allegedly had healing properties. He's obviously ill, and he'd been there a long time.
Here's what I think, though. I think the stories passed down about people being healed of their illnesses by rolling themselves into the Pool of Bethesda were the stuff of urban legend. And I think most people in Jesus' day knew that. But, if you were disabled and desperate, and the only way to make a living was by begging, the best places to go and ask for alms were public places that lots of people would frequent.
I could be wrong, but I see this as a story of a man who has given up hope. Even if the stories of the pool were true, he isn't strong enough to make it happen anyway. He's resigned himself to his lot in life, to the way things are. So when Jesus asks him if we wants to get well, the guy doesn't answer the question. Instead he starts a "woe-is-me" campaign,
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.”I kind of wish Jesus had said to him, "That's not what I asked you. Let me repeat the question." But Jesus, full of grace and love (way more than me, obviously) tells the guy, "Get up! Take up your mat and walk!" And of course, the guy does what Jesus says and is healed.
As I think about this story, I am reminded of my own struggles with hopelessness from time to time. When I think about all of the things I feel hopeless about, the situations I feel I can't change, the desperation I sometimes feel when whatever is happening in my life is beyond my control--I can totally relate to the guy by the pool.
That's when Jesus' question lands on me like a ton of bricks: "Do you want to get well?" Most of the time, if I am being honest, I reply to that question with the same excuses, blame and misdirection as the man at the Pool of Bethesda. Because Jesus' question exposes the truth about us in the middle of our hopelessness, which is simply this: There are times when we've simply given up on "getting well," and have settled for a less-than life.
Which is why Jesus grace-filled and healing command gives me so much encouragement. Jesus doesn't coddle the guy. He doesn't sit there and commiserate with the mans's woefulness and self-pity. Jesus lovingly and firmly tells him to get up.
And in that moment, the man recognizes the voice speaking to him, even though he's never really heard it before with his own ears. The voice speaking to him is the creative Word of God, the voice that spoke the universe into existence at the beginning of all things. The voice speaking is the voice of the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Redeemer and the Lord.
So the man gets up, and walks.
May you hear the voice of Jesus speaking to you today clearly, lovingly and firmly. May you let go of your excuses, your hopeless desperation that you can't, or won't, or never will be well. May you rise in healing and strength filled with the joy of abundant life. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.