If you had asked me at the beginning of last week, “What did it take to be healed by Jesus?” I would have answered, “Jesus healed people who showed that they had faith that he could.”
When the bleeding woman touches the hem of Jesus’ robe, she thinks just that distant connection is enough, and Jesus says that her faith heals her. When the four friends lower the paralytic through the ceiling of the home where Jesus is preaching, He sees their great faith, and their friend is healed. When the synagogue leader demonstrates faith that his daughter can be brought to life, even though the mourners at the house laugh at the suggestion, the little girl rises up to have something to eat.
The presence of faith in so many gospel accounts brings about mighty miracles.
But during Bible study last Thursday, as we talked about the healing of the man at the pool recorded in John 5:1-18, I learned something new about Jesus’ healing miracles, which also taught me a lot about God’s grace.
|image from matt-lifeinthespirit.blogspot.com|
Note: I want to thank my Associate Pastor Nikki Passante for her teachings about
this Bible passage during our Bible study last Thursday.
Many of her insights are included in the post.
In this gospel episode, Jesus is in Jerusalem for a Jewish festival, and goes by a pool of water in an area of the temple known as the Sheep Gate. At this pool, a “great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (verse 3). They embraced a popular superstition that an angel of the Lord would periodically stir up the waters in the pool, and that the first person to get into the pool when the waters began to move would be healed of his disease or condition.
On this particular day, Jesus encounters a man called “an invalid for thirty-eight years” (verse 5). We don’t know how long he has been lying there next to the pool, but we know that it is long enough to feel hopeless that he’ll ever have a chance to get healed; after all, when the waters stir, he has no one to carry him to the pool, and he can’t move to it on his own (verse 7). Someone must have brought him here, but it sounds as though no one has been there to care about his plight for quite some time. Where is his family? Where are his friends? He has likely gone unnoticed for quite awhile.
But Jesus sees him, and Jesus recognizes his need.
“Do you want to be well?” Jesus asks the man (verse 6).
“Do you want to be well?” This is what you’re going to ask him, Jesus? Don’t you assume he wants to be well after thirty-eight years of suffering? Don’t you know he’s miserable—alone, neglected by friends and family, unable to make it to the water’s edge in time for healing, watching everyone else get their miracle while he continues in his distress?
Imagine how painful a healing after thirty-eight years could be.
This man’s invalid state has become central to his identity; it is likely central to how he sees himself and how others relate to him, if at all. His condition has become a way of life.
A healing would require the building of an entirely new life. He’s going to have to figure out how to earn a living, how to interact with his community, how to regain an identity within the temple. It’s not going to be easy.
Put in those terms, it might be easier to go back and sit by the pool!
We don’t ever really find out the man’s answer to Jesus’ question. Does he want to be well?
His response is much more complicated than a “yes” or a “no.”
There are probably a number of ways to read the man’s tone in verse 7, when he says to Jesus, “Sir, 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 tend to read it with a kind of whining tone: Everyone always gets in ahead of me! When will it be my turn?!
But at the same time, I can also imagine the genuine despair he must feel at losing again and again what he sees as his chance for healing.
Perhaps this man is “playing the victim,” or perhaps he is simply expressing, “I want to get well, but I can’t do it on my own.” Either way, he is being “real” with Jesus. Whether he bears bitterness, a victim mentality, abject misery, hopelessness, or some degree of all of these, he exposes his heart to Jesus no matter what it looks like.
And no matter what it looks like, it’s okay with Jesus. Jesus has sought him out, Jesus has taken the initiative to approach him, Jesus demonstrates His divine grace and heals him.
God’s grace is truly a free gift, not dependent on the state of our heart.
This man, by the way, didn’t even know he was talking to Jesus (verse 13)! It is not his faith that saves him; no specific belief is required for his cure.
Jesus is not limited by our faith or lack of faith.
God’s grace is truly a free gift, not dependent on the state of our own faith.
Jesus gives this man what he never even asks for.
This miracle calls to my mind the miracle at Cana, where He changes water into wine at the wedding feast. Mary, remember, points out to Jesus that the host has run out of wine, but doesn’t dictate a specific action for Jesus to perform; rather she simply directs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do (John 2:5). Rather than simply calling up a few extra glasses to provide for the most important and potentially influential and critical guests, Jesus provides six large stone jugs full of top-quality wine to carry through the rest of the feast (John 2: 6-10).
Likewise, by the pool, Jesus does more for the man that he could have ever thought to ask. If anything, perhaps he might ask Jesus to help him to the pool’s edge in time for the stirring of the waters. Never in his wildest imagination would he have said, “Please heal me so I can walk again.”
And yet that is just what Jesus does for him: “Get up!” He tells the man. “Pick up your mat and walk.”
This time the man does not delay with stories and excuses, as in verse 7. Rather, he is cured at once, and so picks up his mat and walks.
Jesus’ compassion surpasses all limits—the limits of what we can imagine to ask for, the limits of human law codes or social expectations. He doesn’t take a day off from caring about people, or relating to people, or demonstrating compassion, or doing His Father’s work.
God’s grace is truly a free gift, not dependent on what we think to ask for.
I love that when Jesus goes to look for the man after his healing, He finds him in the Temple. It’s a promising start to the man’s “new life.” This man seems to know that something extraordinary has happened, something that warrants some praise and thanksgiving to God.
But that doesn’t stop Jesus from issuing a further warning: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (verse 14). Again and again in the gospels, there seems to be a close link between a person’s physical healing and their spiritual healing, a correlation between healing and forgiveness. Here, Jesus seems to be saying, Now that you have bodily health, attend to your spiritual health. The consequences of neglecting your spiritual health would be even more dire than the misery of the physical distress and suffering with which you are well familiar.
As a result, this man becomes a witness to Jesus the Healer. “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well” (verse 15). I don’t think he did this with evil intentions; I don’t believe he knew that the very men he told of his experience were the ones who wanted to see Jesus dead.
God’s grace is truly a free gift, a gift that heals us, fills us, changes us, revives us.
Thanks be to God, He never leaves us where He finds us! He bids us pick up our mat and walk.
As an aside, I was struck during Bible study by what a great bumper sticker we could create based on this account from the gospel of John:
Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!
Don’t dwell in your weakness. Walk in the forgiveness and healing that God has given you as a free gift. Live in that state of grace that God offers to you in Jesus Christ.
Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!